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*Disclaimer: Before even typing a word about this film, I understand that my thoughts will somehow be construed as ‘wrong’ or ‘objectionable’ by some readers, no matter what I may say. Politically slanted films, especially documentaries, will always drudge up an emotional response in some people. I'm attempting to be as objective as possible when reviewing the film’s content and execution. Though I'm sure some readers know I happen to be a left-leaning individual politically, I assure everyone that I did not ask for this title as part of some grand attempt at pressing my values and opinions on more susceptible readers. This DVD simple showed up in my mailbox, and out of professional consideration (not to mention the fact that I want to keep distributors happy in the hopes of getting discs I really want next time) I've decided to write up a review.

I ask that readers that disagree with my assessment speak their minds without anger, and please don't send me furious E-mails. If you've seen the film, feel free to tell me I'm wrong and why, but if you haven't please don't make assumptions. Thank you

Why We Fight

Feature


Michael Moore has given birth to a monster (how's that for a disgusting image to kick things off?) following his record breaking, anti-Bush tirade Fahrenheit 9/11. There have been politically minded documentaries for decades, and more specifically filmed propaganda since WWII (this film is, of course, ironically named after a series of pro-USA propaganda films made by Frank Capra), but the wake of the portly Michigan native's filmed attack has been massive. The past two years have been absolutely flooded with political documentaries—some borrowing the Cannes winning style, some opting for a more conservative assessment, and others aimed directly at antagonizing Moore's own opinions. I'll go on record as saying that despite my affection for Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine I was not all that fond of Moore's latest film. I may have agreed with some of its evaluations, but as a movie lover I thought it was sloppy and obvious.

The interesting thing about these lefty docs is that their creators see them as anti-corporate news for left-winged viewers. I find this interesting because I watch the same corporate news and can gather the information I need without making specific assumptions. In other words, I don't understand being told what to think. Because I've already gathered this information, and can use my basic High School history education to make any number of assumptions based on it, I've never been shocked or awed by this specific brand of entertainment.

‘Tell me something I don't know.’ It's a rather sad rally cry, I admit.

Why We Fight
Why We Fight fits very snugly into the Post- Fahrenheit mould, but is a much more subtle and much less personal piece. Unlike Moore's superior Bowling for Columbine, or even superior non-politically motivated documentaries like Capturing the Friedmans or American Movie, the film has a specific thesis statement—President Ike Eisenhower warned the American people of the dangers of the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ at the end of his term, and over the last fifty years he's been proven correct. The film then goes on to prove this, but unfortunately trips over about fifty other ideas along the way.

Despite one's particular stance on the issue, Why We Fight makes a great case against the business aspects of modern war and the massive build up of American defence since the end of the second World War. It also makes a good case against the current Iraq War, and director Jarecki very fortunately bases his case on facts and figures rather than all-too-easy and all-too-overused emotional responses. There is a heavy handed emotional arc to the film (actually three), but viewers who disagree with the film's assessment can see through this to the core of the issue, which is where those facts and figures can come back in.

Unfortunately for the Guerrilla marketers at Sony, I was probably the wrong person to send this DVD to, not because I'm right-leaning or disagree with the film's obvious stance on the matter, but because nothing here is a shocking revelation to me. I did not have my mind blown by these facts and figures. I already knew most of this stuff, and the specifics I didn't know were easy enough to infer. In the film's favour, I'm sure there are plenty of Americans who have forgotten, or never knew that pretty much every single conflict the country's been involved with since the downfall of the Nazi empire has been a direct effect of poor choices made at the end of WWII. I'm also sure there are plenty of Americans who have forgotten or never knew that their leaders were the ones who placed people like Saddam Hussein in power and supplied them with funding, weapons, and training. I'm even sure that there are plenty of Americans who have forgotten or never knew that their leaders, without exception, have lied to them.

Why We Fight
I'd love to think that the people who needed this kind of knowledge would get it from this film, but I don't see that happening. I don't see minds being blown or foundations being shaken. I see guys like me watching a bunch of factoids they already knew and simply becoming depressed. However, if I'm wrong, then I'd call the film a moderate success. Its biggest pitfall is its lack of focus, as it simply presents too many ideas in too short a time. It does do right by introducing the conservative point of view through various interviews without overtly demonizing any of the participants, but does not give enough time to the opposing point of view to be accused of playing 100% fair. Moderate Republican and Vietnam War hero Senator John McCain offers the best assessments of the problem, and often represents the moral centre of the film.

I'd have preferred a more focused historical study of the build up to the current Iraqi War, and ultimately feel the film dates itself with too much modern politics. I don't really know much about the specifics of the country's foreign policy during the Cold War. I know the broad scope already presented here, and I want the little things. Almost every aspect of the film could've made a solitary and better documentary. The retired New York cop whose son died in the destruction of the Twin Towers, and his ultimate disenchantment with the powers that be is pretty fascinating stuff, as is the equally disenchanted former military intelligence worker who has ultimately separated herself from most humanity out of disgust. I'd also like to see a decent doc on Ike Eisenhower (no, not a dramatic recreation starring Tom Selick), or the history of Hussein himself, because he makes a compelling monster.

My view of the film is summed up pretty tightly during a sequence where a world map counts down every US occupation of the Cold War and post-Cold War eras, dates included. The image is striking, but it moves by far to fast to absorb, and is spoken over by a slightly less interesting and distracting commentator. In the end, Why We Fight layers far too many ideas and images too quickly to have the full impact it needed.

Why We Fight

Video


Like most historical documentaries, Why We Fight utilizes a variable plethora of multi-media footage, including old newsreels, video feed, and newer film. Because of this it's hard to make a real critical assessment of the transfer's quality. Often the filmmakers use any specific media's shortcomings to make the film more visually intriguing, for instance, closing up on television footage to magnify every pixel. I can say that the interview footage is crisp and clean, and the bland black backgrounds a deep and without low-level noise.

Audio


The disc’s audio, like its visuals, varies in quality. The only purpose for the 5.1 track is the music and occasional additional sound effect (you know, for flair). The majority of the footage is dialogue based or culled from TV broadcasts, and last time I checked, the news wasn't presented in Dolby Digital. The words are clean and always easy to make-out, besides the Brooklyn accents that is, and when the soundtrack kicks in with an added oomph it does its job. Not exactly a DVD reviewers playground, but adequate as can be.

Extras


Remember the part of my film review where I said: ’Almost every aspect of the film could've made a solitary and better documentary.’? I wrote that before I started on the disc’s special features. It turns out that the filmmakers may have felt the same way. The DVD format has possibly done more for the documentary than any other film genre, specifically when it comes to special features, because the story can be updated and expanded without altering the original film. I'm sure that a special edition double dip of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is in the cards considering recent events in the case.

Why We Fight
The features on this disc, though divided into categories, could be seen as the deleted scenes of an extended cut of the film for the most part. The first part, ‘Extra Scenes’, delves slightly more deeply into three slightly whitewashed aspects, Ike's history, Congresses utter failure at discussing the Iraqi War, and Frank Capra's original films. The Ike bit was my favourite, but still didn't quite quench my knowledge thirst. The Congress bit covers way too much of the same ground the doc did, and plays more like a slightly extended sequence of what's already in the film. The original Why We Fight archive, including snippets from Warner Bros. Private Snafu animated shorts is great, but if the producers were going through the trouble of accessing the rights to these mini-masterpieces, why didn't they offer them in their entirety on the disc?

I then proceeded to the extended character info, which, like the extended scenes, was a little too short. We get a nice little update on William, a kid with money problems who enlists to go to Iraq. Apparently he's back home, or at least was when the DVD producers last checked, who knows where he is now given the dire straights in the Middle East right now. We get to know the back stories of disenfranchised CIA and Air Force Ops, both of whom seem plenty qualified to make their assessments. Painfully brief, however, is the full then-and-now on former 'Nam vet and bereft father Wilton Sekzer, the tragic hero of the whole film, and next to Eisenhower the most fascinating weapon in Jarecki's arsenal.

Next was the audience Q and A with director Jarecki. This is the part of the DVD which will fuel conservative fires more than the film itself, as Jarecki makes no qualms about his stance and beliefs. He is very intelligent and well spoken, though one wonders what other questions were not included in the three brief question set, and how well he handles himself when editors aren't there to clip all the ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’, or maybe he just pre-screens and pads his audience like Bush Jr. does. His disbelief in the ‘red state, blue state’ theory is rather valiant, and he makes a good case against the two party system. The final bit of the section where he leads a Q and A session with a large group of High school students will especially provoke anger in those that disagree with his assessments.

This is followed by two kind of moot and reciprocities TV interview with Jarecki, one with PBS's resident monotonous mouthpiece Charlie Rose, and the other with Comedy Central's resident flippant fake-journalist John Stewart. Rose's piece is boring but ‘classy’, Stewart's is funny but lightweight.

Why We Fight
The hard facts come in the form of Jarecki and retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson's commentary track. It can get dry, and there are a few silent spots, but for the most part this track is the meat and potatoes of the disc. Half interview, half informational commentary, the track juxtaposes Jarecki's recollections of the making and release of the film, and his questions for Wilkerson smoothly. Wilkerson's credentials check out in spades, and his words as a man who was there during the bulk of the conflicts on display in the doc mean more than almost any others. Jarecki doesn't throw softballs either, but one gets the feeling that he knew Wilkerson would answer in a way beneficial to his cause.

The rest of the disc is made up of trailers and website information (the fact that the website info has to be reiterated at the end of every single featurette is annoying). All-in-all this is a nice, but not nearly deep enough, collection of extras.

Overall


So we come to it, the part of my review where I say that despite its many shortcomings, this is a film that begs to be watched. The ignorant need to know, and the detractors need the ammo. I'm not sure if this disc is worth a purchase, but it's definitely worth a rent. The extras aren't quite up to snuff when compared to documentary sets like Capturing the Friedmans, but make up a sort of extended edition of the film. Now excuse me while I crawl under a rock in preparation for my inevitably negative site comments and E-Mails.


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