Nick Broomfield’s latest cinematic offering dramatises a particular brutal and harrowing chapter in the five year history of the U.S occupation of Iraq.
The film depicts the events of 19 November 2005, when a battalion of U.S marines went on a murderous rampage, killing 24 men, women and children in revenge for the death of a fellow soldier by a roadside bomb.
Broomfield, who has made his name primarily as a documentary film maker, employs the same documentary ethic not only in the way the film has been shot (an improvised script and hand held cameras), but also through the use of non-actors who have direct experiences of the war in Iraq.
Elliot Ruiz is a 22-year-old former Marine who had been, when he was 17, the youngest Marine deployed to Iraq. He plays Ramierez — the psyched up and trigger happy instigator of the shooting spree. Due to Ruiz’s ability to tap into his own personal experiences in Iraq, a great depth of emotion is bought to his performance. He presents to us a complex character who, although has been made “numb” by his experiences in the “arsehole of the world”, i.e Iraq, is still haunted by his murderous acts and even regrets them.
The victims of the atrocity are also primarily played by war refugees from Baghdad (the film was shot in Jordan where they fled). In fact one of the cast members, who plays a grief stricken mother who witnesses her two sons being shot by the Marines, has lived through a similar tragedy — her son was killed by the insurgency. Her tears in the film are for real.
The film charts how the Iraqi families’ attempt to carry on with life — in the case of one family, celebrate a coming of age ceremony for a young boy — is savagely interrupted. No aspect of life in Iraq can be spared from the violence and bloodshed that has engulfed the country since the invasion.
The film also follows Al-Qaida’s paid insurgents — an ex army man and a young C.D seller — as they plant the bomb. The men are not Islamist ideologues — in fact one is partial to an alcohol drink — but are portrayed as fed up citizens who want to rid their country of the US occupation and earn some US dollors in the process.
The cycle of violence is graphically illustrated by the film: the presence of US troops resulting in roadside bombs planted by insurgents, US troops violently meting out punishment and murdering innocents and their actions inspiring other waves of insurgency.
Like Ramirez, the bombers also express regret at the carnage and at the actions of the insurgents who exploit it. “I have feeling that we may get someone worse than Saddam”, one of them rues.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq, like the Vietnam war before it, has provided film makers in last couple of years with a rich vein of human tragedy to tap into. Battle for Haditha follows a number of other films like Redadacted by Brian De Palma, In the valley of Elah by Paul Haggis, Rendition by Gavin Hood.
However, it is Broomfield’s raw and visceral take of a calamitous day that will in years to come serve as a potent reminder of the sheer brutality unleashed on the Iraqi people by the war and occupation.