I just came across Walter Chaw’s very critical review of Gunner Palace, which I found on the cool new film blog, Cinemonster. My initial review was certainly more positive, but I do share some of their reservations about the film, specifically regarding Tucker’s voice-over. I do think the film’s lack of a clear political message, implied in what Chaw describes as “the lack of a unifying theme” can be read in a more positive light as an implicit criticism of the war’s lack of a clear focus.
Also, based on my experience at a screening attended by the director and one of the soldiers in the unit portrayed in the film, I don’t think Tucker’s point is to criticize opponents of the war, as Chaw suggests. Tucker’s status as a veteran certainly informs the lens through which he sees the soldiers, but to suggest that Tucker is “spitting like a bona fide jarhead in the face of all us lefty wimps who’ve made the mistake of trying to learn something without getting shot at” seems to deny the very purpose of the documentary Tucker and Epperlein have made. In fact, I think it would be reasonable to argue that the film is equally critical of armchair hawks who have “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers on the back of their cars without any real understanding of what the military is doing, and while the representation issue (“we can’t really know what the soldiers experience”) may be obvious, I do think it’s worth revisiting.
I actually didn’t intend to write another blog entry “defending” the film or my original review of it, but now that the film has achieved “must-see” status, I can’t resist continuing the conversation and testing my initial reading of it. It does bother me that the film didn’t take a slightly more explicit anti-war stance, and I’m still concerned that the film failed to represent any sense of how the Iraqi perceived the war, but there are still some powerful moments in the film that make it well worth seeing (if only so that you can complain about it later).