Using ex-Marines as actors and shooting in Jordan, British director Nick Broomfield tackles a controversial subject in Battle for Haditha. It recreates the events of November 19 2005, when US Marines massacred Iraqi civilians in retaliation for a deadly IED attack on their convoy. Even-handedly cutting between the Marines led by Corporal Ramirez (Elliot Ruiz), the insurgents (Falah Flayeh and Oliver Bytrus) and Iraqi civilians (Yasmine Hanani), Broomfield's handheld camera throws us head first into the action and asks us to find our own way through the fog of war.
Unlike much of the current wave of Iraq War movies, such as In The Valley of Elah, Battle for Haditha shows more than one side of the conflict. As well as speaking to US Marines, Broomfield and his team interviewed hundreds of Iraqis about the occupation using their comments to prompt the cast's largely improvised performances. There are some clunky missteps: characters spout platitudes and the non-professional cast occasionally seem awkward. Yet the film effectively blurs the line between drama and documentary (something it shares with Broomfield's last film, Ghosts) as it tries to unravel what happened in Haditha.
"THE VIOLENCE IS SHOCKING"
There are no easy answers. Instead of demonising the Marines, Broomfield treats them with compassion, recognising the strain they're under as they fight a complicated urban guerrilla war. Meanwhile the insurgents are never reduced to fanatics. However, it's the Iraqi civilians who're the film's heart and our entry into their lives makes the massacre all the more harrowing. The violence is shocking: a clinical kill-frenzy fuelled by a cocktail of anger and fear. God, Broomfield subtly points out, is said to be on both sides, but it seems He wasn't in Haditha on that dreadful day. As a film designed to spark debate, Battle for Haditha fulfils its brief with quiet power.
Battle For Haditha is out in the UK on 1st February 2008.