Documentarians Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss shine a disturbing light on an angle of the Iraq War most of us don’t even know exists: the new, and some might say delusional face of counterinsurgency training. Deep in the heart of the Mojave Desert at Ft. Irwin, there are a series of mock Iraqi villages inhabited by over 250 Iraqis (some are American citizens, some are just hopefuls). Soldiers, on a brief respite from the real war, are shipped here to train in diplomacy, to shed prejudices and learn to connect with the Iraqi people so that our nation building mission is a success—at least that’s what’s supposed to happen. The scenario we witness, written by a team of middle-aged, overweight men sitting around a table in total comfort and safety, includes fake gunfire, fake riots, fake ceasefires and fake dead bodies—with severed limbs modeled from photos of actual human remains from the front. It’s like a “big reality show,” one commander tells us. Yes, for, like, billions of dollars—and in the end, the soldiers still refer to Arabic as “gibberish” and fail to win the hearts of even the fake villagers. War is called “theatre,” and the word has never rung so true. If only the five soldiers we meet in the film, who were eventually killed when they went back to Iraq, were faking it.
Full Battle Rattle, First Run Features. 85 minutes. Unrated. $24.95.