Managed to snag a ticket to this basically excellent doc last night. You can say it's about why we're in Iraq; a lot of the film is, but it really does try and get to the heart of the matter, as the title suggests. When it's on, the film is as beautiful and compelling as any doc I've seen. When it wanders, it's still pretty good, but fallible.
It opens with a genuinely amazing speech by Eisenhower, as he is about to end his presidency, in which he essentially warns against the perversion of democracy that a standing army and the attendant industries will wreak. This coming from a five star general who'd served in WWII. I wish they'd run the entire speech at the start of the film. Instead, we get excerpts, and then a standard talking-heads and footage piece. It sits halfway between a normal PBS story structure with several characters interwoven and something where the talking heads advance a thesis from start to finish..
What really got me was how *close* to being astonishing it was. As I said, many sections of it are beautiful -– it has a nice soundtrack that bridges a lot sections together into bigger pieces - then it would get bogged down a little with bites that were maybe not exactly off-topic, but maybe weren't bold enough. Much of the dialog is preaching to the choir, and so what frustrates me is to see the other elements get lost within the rote '“our politicians don'’t care'” soundbites. The good stuff by my reckoning includes: a great story of a NYC cop, a Vet himself, who lost a son in 9/11; a young guy signing up for the army;an army colonel (I think) who was in the Pentagon when it was struck and felt that she had to leave the armed service because of policy differences; and a woman scientist who works on bunker-buster bombs who turns out to have fled Saigon days before the fall, and who has deeply patriotic feeling for the US.
My gut tells me that if they'’d kept this a little more trim, a little more poetic, and maybe kept the run-time to 1:15 instead of 1:38, they'd have a film that was breathless, and left the audience stunned at the end, rather than feeling like they'’d seen a really great documentary. There were quite a few sections during the film that are that good, and so major hats off to the team.
I know docs aren'’t the same as news stories, and it'’s not a rule that you have to give equal time to opposing viewpoints, but I did feel like there might have been a useful way to contextualize the argument a bit better with regard to the conservative side of the fence. Not just hearing things to debunk them, but to broaden the scope.
I hope this film is a huge success; I'’ll be very curious to see what the numbers are when it opens outside of new york/la.