Gunner Palace
dir. Epperlein, Tucker
Opens Fri Mar 18
Cinema 21

Documentary filmmaker Michael Tucker spent 10 months living in Iraq, embedded with 400 soldiers stationed at a bombed-out palace in Baghdad. His resultant film, Gunner Palace, is challenging, funny, and poignant--and one of the best documentaries to come out of the war in Iraq.

The strength of Gunner Palace is that it's so non-polemical--it transcends any argument about the legitimacy of the American presence in Iraq. Instead, it tells of the events in Iraq via the voices of the underrepresented (though overexposed) men and women that are a part of them. Tucker joins his soldiers on routine patrols. He films their interactions with Iraqis, and documents their downtime, as the soldiers--most of whom are in their late teens or early 20s--joke, bitch, smoke, and drink non-alcoholic beer while lounging next to the palace's pool.

Tucker also understands that the soundtrack to any war movie is crucial, and Gunner Palace's music is provided almost entirely by soldiers themselves, resulting in some of the film's best moments. When one of several freestyle rappers stares into the camera and charges "For ya'll this is just a show / But we live in this movie," he's reiterating a point made by several other soldiers: the American public, comfortably watching footage from Iraq on TV, has no idea what the war is actually like.

Maybe more importantly, we also have no idea what the soldiers are like, since the image of the American GI has been spun into a right-wing überhero, and "our boys" have become an ace up the sleeve for anyone who wants to silence criticism of the war. Tucker lets soldiers speak in their own voices, and those voices are much more than we're used to hearing: jaded, funny, irreverent, homesick. My Volvo still won't be sporting a yellow ribbon anytime soon, but Gunner Palace is an important reminder that my feelings about America's involvement in Iraq should be reserved for the people making the decisions, and not necessarily those doing the dirty work.