Friday, February 22, 2008

No End In Sight (****)

No End In Sight
Written, Directed, and Produced by Charles Ferguson


It's amazing how many Hollywood pictures have gone down the drain when they tried to tackle subject matter dealing with the War in Iraq. The opposite could be said, though, for documentary filmmaking. Ever since the notorious Michael Moore blew the whistle in his surprise hit Fahrenheit 9/11, there have been numerous documentaries that have taken different perspectives on the war. Three, in fact, have been nominated for Best Documentary in the 2007 Oscars. One of those nominated films, No End In Sight, displays the aftermath of the war with such clarity and honesty, it may go down as the best to tackle the subject matter.

Moore's Fahrenheit was admittedly a two-hour, biased campaign to bring down the Bush administration before the 2004 election. The "character" of George W. Bush is rarely in this film, though. In fact, his absence during all the events displayed in the picture is much more damning than any well-edited montage of interviews and mispronunciations that Moore could put together. What No End In Sight does so well, is allow the actual people who were there tell the stories themselves. And those stories aren't very good...

What the bulk of No End In Sight deals with is the numerous failed attempts the US made to restore Iraq after they'd invaded the country, and captured Saddam Hussein. On May 1st, 2003, President George W. Bush famously stood at a naval base with a giant sign that read overhead: "Mission Accomplished". As shown in the film, close to little had actually been accomplished, other than America once again flexing it's nonchalant muscles, and invading a malnourished country. Saddam was found, so what do we do now? Some left, some tried to stay and help, but the only sure thing is that the situation brought nothing but confusion to many people.

Today, many Iraqi families have been severely impoverished, while the streets are filled with dangerous militias. With the Shiites and the Sunis already warring, the destruction left by the American invasion did nothing but up the violent tension between the two. Most of the exclusive interviews within the movie are with people assigned the important job of trying to rebuild Iraq, despite limited resources or help from the US government. By the time of these interviews, close to all of these people have been dismissed from their positions, after their pleading and ideas on Iraq were ignored.

What this film does best is stand on it's own, with no links to particular denominations. Even the narrator, actor Campbell Scott, has a narration that is bland and suppressing. The interviewed individuals display their opinions: many are anti-American, many sad, but all simply baffled by how the situation has become so out of control. "There were 500 ways to do it wrong and two or three ways to do it right," said ambassador Barbara Bodine, a member of ORHA, a group created to think up ideas to rebuild Baghdad. "What we didn't understand is that we were going to go through all 500."

Their are spectacular stats presented: by the end of the war, it may end up costing the United States over $1.8 billion. There is fear instilled in the audience: with our invasion of Iraq, we have now empowered their biggest rival, the equally dangerous Iran. More than anything, though, what Charles Ferguson has done with his film is display a war on the screen that we expect (but don't get) from our own American media. As the public ignores Hollywood films addressing the war, and are content with news which would rather cover celebrity exploits as opposed to the rebuilding of Iraq, the middle eastern country is slowly disintegrating into a lawless nation where many American soldiers, to this day, are still being killed.

In the end, No End In Sight is a story of bad decision-making, inflated egos, and numerous sad endings. Like Fahrenheit, the film juxtaposes images of war and insurgency, with the faces of American political leaders back in Washington laughing, giggling, and rationalizing. It's comfortable for the average American to be apathetic to the situation in Iraq, and I don't deny doing it myself. What this film brings to the forefront, is our biggest fears. It shows the greatest horrors of a puzzling war, that we've tried to turn our back on.

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