Standard Operating Procedure

"Very Good"

Standard Operating Procedure Review


There have been two documentaries thus far that deal specifically with the actions taken by the group of military police that resulted in the infamous actions and photographs from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The first, Alex Gibney's acute Taxi to the Dark Side, focused on the death of an innocent taxi driver at the prison, a high point in the atrocity exhibition that Vice President Dick Cheney explained away by saying "We have to work... sort of on the dark side." Using a case study of sorts, Gibney found a singular key to our current disregard for humanity (not to mention the Geneva Convention) and rode his expose to an Oscar win last February.

The second film comes from the venerable Errol Morris, who was last seen polling the political landscape through a heart-to-heart with ex-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in his excellent The Fog of War. His latest film is called Standard Operating Procedure, and, unlike Gibney's film, the director attempts to take the whole mess in while focusing on what the photographs from Abu Ghraib were really being used for. In his usual fashion, Morris does away with voice-over and allows the interviewees, many of whom were part of the MP squad pictured in the photographs, to use their answers to sculp the unheard question.

The torture is old news but that's half the point: suspected terrorists, one of which was given the nickname "Gilligan," were put through agonizing forms of torture and depravation in the hopes of getting information on Al Qaeda, terrorist attacks, or future attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Waterboarding, sleep depravation, sexual humiliation, electrodes: that these things happened is not up for debate. Morris believes, with due evidence, that these things were admitted to call the hounds away from more devious, unseen acts, namely incidents like the one depicted in Gibney's film.

Stylized by Danny Elfman's sinister-yet-playful score and reenactments of certain stories, Morris adds a whole gallery of rogues to his menagerie of human amazements. The most fascinating of them is Lynddie England, the infamous Specialist who posed for pictures with a prisoner on a leash and again while callously pointing to detainees forced to masturbate. Only three years after being court martialed, England has transformed from the skinny paradigm of decayed morality to a scorned and hardened single mother; she resembles something like Clarice Starling if she opted for the night shift at the Piggly Wiggly instead of Langley. When she talks about her one-time fiancée and father of her son Private Charles Graner, you can see the black hole where her sense of right and wrong use to be.

A casualty of the occupation in her own right, Morris paints England as the poster child for youth-in-conflict. Does this mean that Morris is cutting these guys a whole lot of slack? Most definitely, but his argument boils down to just that: the schematics of the current military call for less intelligent people to be wielded by more powerful, shameless people to carefully execute an undisclosed agenda. To Morris, this group of "bad apples" is a battalion of patsies. The argument is considerably shaky and insomuch as Bush, Cheney, and their cronies deserve a portion of blame, the writing's on the wall.

Engrossing if inexcusably flashy, SOP feels like a stepping stone to a more undeniable account of Abu Ghraib and its mirroring effect on our torture culture, the way documentaries like The War Tapes and Iraq in Fragments felt like links leading to Charles H. Ferguson's devastating No End in Sight. As Hollywood scrambles to comprehend the effects of this war on soldiers (Stop-Loss), family (In the Valley of Elah) and media (Redacted), Morris stays glued to the military institution and its unending ability to sacrifice "our boys" for the "greater good." It's no picnic: You try convincing people that our heads of state are basically a collective of pointing fingers.

Everyone with the flip-flops.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 116 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 29th May 2008

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 79 Rotten: 21

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Julie Ahlberg

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Advertisement
Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Passengers Movie Review

Passengers Movie Review

Anchored by the almost ridiculously engaging Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, this sci-fi movie travels...

Neruda Movie Review

Neruda Movie Review

Clever Chilean director Pablo Larrain (who also directed Natalie Portman's Jackie) takes on the Nobel-winning...

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

Narrated by Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), this documentary is one of the most gripping...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.