Full Battle Rattle

"Weak"

Full Battle Rattle Review


The potential for wartime satire is almost unbearably high in the setting for Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss's documentary Full Battle Rattle, a fact which unfortunately may have left them unable to do much more to capitalize on their subject, assuming that it would provide the context and satire for itself. This can happen sometimes to the best of filmmakers, where they become almost paralyzed by the full weight of what they're beholding. The better ones learn how to dig deeper, those on the lower end of the scale skate along the surface. Gerber and Moss are the latter.

After basic training but before they are deployed to Iraq, many fresh-minted American soldiers have another stop to make. Somewhere in the Mojave desert, the Army runs an Iraqi Potemkin village where trainees are sent to take part in three weeks of simulated missions, complete with Arabic-speaking villagers and insurgents who like to stir up trouble. Looking like a knocked-together film set, the collection of dun-colored buildings called Medina Wasl also serves as a home to the people who are "playing" the villagers. That many of the villagers are Iraqi exiles, and probably making a better and safer living than most of their countrymen, brings a bittersweet tang to their scenes, which provide some of the only elements of humanity in this otherwise colorless and dull film.

It is indeed a surreal sight to witness American soldiers in full gear roaring into Medina Wasl and parlaying with shouting and gesticulating actors in order to keep the village from devolving into complete anarchy. But Full Battle Rattle takes the inherent strangeness of that vision as a given and never quite expands on it, failing to push the story outside of the filmmakers' comfort zone. Given the infamous lack of preparation displayed by the Pentagon in the planning for the Iraq invasion, it represents a quantum shift in strategy that such a specific training ground would even be developed (a similar camp was created for jungle warfare training during Vietnam). But you wouldn't know the import of this from Gerber and Moss' approach, which brings in no outside viewpoints or historical perspectives and instead sticks with the people living and working in Medina Wasl.

Even with the subjects it does interview, Full Battle Rattle comes up short, in that it rarely seems to ask any of the tougher questions, particularly to those in uniform. Only a very few officers speak at length, offering un-illuminating platitudes for the most part. The most glaring oversight, however (and one that seems likely to have been a compromise in order to secure access in the first place) is the almost complete lack of discussion with the frontline soldiers being put through the training. One would assume that the viewpoints of those for whom the whole compound has been constructed would have been of interest.

Given disturbingly more screen time are the American veterans of the Iraq fighting, who have come to Medina Wasl to use their combat experience in order to play the bad guys. Somewhat comically dressed as insurgents, the vets take up sniper positions, kidnap civilians, and basically do everything they can to make the village go right to hell. The vets seem almost to relish playing for the other side, as it's the closest thing to combat without actually being there, but there's a shadow to much of their conversation, and the wary, shell-shocked looks they shoot at the Iraqi villagers speak volumes about the war's lingering effects.

Shorn of insight and any informative examination of what is, without argument, one of the stranger places on the planet, Full Battle Rattle remains little more than a curiosity; its lack of the most basic context or reportorial curiosity keeping it a feature-length C-grade History Channel selection at best.

Fresh souls.



Full Battle Rattle

Facts and Figures

Run time: 85 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 9th July 2008

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 8

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Tony Gerber,

Producer: Pascal Demko, Britton Fisher, Tony Gerber,

Also starring:

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