Gunner Palace

"Good"

Gunner Palace Review


For all the Iraq war news filling up newspapers, magazines, nightly broadcasts, and the Internet feeds, it's stunning how little of it is truly on-the-ground frontline reporting. The mainstream press corps - which had celebrated its own bravery by being embedded with the military juggernaut that routed Saddam's army in record time - now contents itself with the bare minimum. Reporters based in fortified hotels call in their stories on the most recent car bombings, while anchors and commentators back in New York talk about what they think it all means. 24 hours of news, not much information.

One film that helps fight this dispiriting trend, the problematic but worthy documentary Gunner Palace, opened in September 2003 (four months after what the military termed "major combat" in Iraq had finished) sardonically noting, over footage of insurgents and explosions, "This is minor combat." The film shadows the 400 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment of the 1st Armored Division, who have set up camp in one of Saddam's old palaces. It's a sublimely surreal home base, partially bombed-out and full of the soaring ceilings and tacky décor that typify such places (somewhere, somebody is hopefully planning a fake Extreme Makeover episode on just such a spot) - the swimming pool out back helps, too. That's where the soldiers, or gunners, kill time between patrols, floating on inner tubes under the Iraqi sun. As Jessie Potts (aka "The Mayor of Gunner Palace") puts it, "We dropped a bomb on it, now we party in it."

The gunners of the 2/3 are not standard infantry, they're trained as an artillery unit - originally structured to fight the Red Army in Western Europe - but now in their corner of Baghdad they're just grunts like everyone else, patrolling the streets and carrying out house raids, their duties an unsettling mix of being military police and walking targets. A lot of them are small-town guys who seem to have just enough idealism left about their jobs (because it is primarily a job for them) to level out the pervading cynicism and keep them going. The filmmakers have an overwhelming amount of respect for them, which is obvious from the beginning, but unfortunately this results in too much footage of the soldiers clowning or blowing off steam and not enough of them honestly talking about the war itself. This could be the point, of course, the last things the soldiers may want to do is get serious on camera - just riding around in an unarmored Humvee all day, waiting to get shot at or taken out by an IED, is serious enough. For all the film's affection for its subjects, it unfortunately fails to clearly present most of them as individuals. When it does spend a lot of time on one person, it tends to be on camera hogs like the resident cynic/borderline nutcase/burgeoning thrash guitarist Stuart Wilf, a little of whom goes quite a long way.

Gunner Palace takes a cockeyed look at the war itself, determinedly not imposing a viewpoint of either relentlessly optimistic patriotism or downbeat opposition, with an approach that's just satirical enough not be too heavy-handed. The gunners patrol the darkened streets, with mortars crumping in the distance, and angry Sunni crowds gathering outside the local mosque, while army radio blares out impossibly upbeat stories and stiff-upper-lip pronouncements from Rumsfeld. The mix of day-to-day tedium - no falsely played heroics here - and goofy gunner antics makes for a rhythm that's difficult to sustain, no matter how often the filmmakers cut to the gunners rapping about their woes (it works better than you'd think, some of them aren't half-bad). It all ends somewhat sourly, with the palace due to be turned over to the Iraqi military, about whom one gunner says, "I can't train someone who doesn't give a shit."

There are already better documentaries out there on the Iraq war - the yet-to-be released Off to War comes to mind - but at this stage of the conflict, even a merely decent film serves as sorely-needed reportage on a conflict that is already threatening to displace the Korean conflict as the forgotten war. And though Gunner Palace is not quite as rogue as its filmmakers appear to think, its ground-level view of this messy "minor combat" is still quite worthwhile.

DVD extras include a half hour of extra scenes and bonus "freestyle" raps from the gunners.

I think there's something on the lens.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 85 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 5th September 2004

Box Office USA: $63.5k

Distributed by: Palm Pictures

Production compaines: Nomados Film

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 88 Rotten: 16

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Petra Epperlein,

Producer: Petra Epperlein

Starring: Bryant Davis as Himself, Devon Dixon as Himself, Javorn Drummond as Himself, Elliot Lovett as Himself, Nick Moncrief as Himself

Also starring:

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