Dirty Wars Screen 9 articles

Dirty Wars


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  • There's little attempt to present the "why" of the JSOC -- what do its proponents think it's accomplishing, other than killing foreigners? Goodness knows the filmmakers found plenty of time to accommodate multiple scenes of Scahill brooding and typing and even grocery shopping in Gowanus.

  • Each of Scahill's glaring revelations feels staged for maximum emotional effect. Whether it's director Rick Rowley's kinetic Bourne-like visuals or Kronos Quartet's brooding string score, the look and sound of Dirty Wars almost always trumps the content. Throw in Scahill's endless musings about professional integrity and the film feels like one man's personal highlight reel posing as social commentary.

  • One of the most extreme examples of a documentary that’s terrible on the surface (all the usual lazy indignities of the non-fiction format, from overzealous attention-getting effects to intrusion of pointless first person narration) hiding a hard kernel of terrifying, fascinating reportage.

  • Scahill’s voiceover has a grim relentlessness that ties everything together, while maintaining the pretense that the viewer is at his side as he makes his discoveries. As the author of a new 680-page book on this subject, Scahill clearly has a lot to say in Nation-muckraking mode, suggesting a world of connections just beyond one’s grasp. Dirty Warswraps a hefty chunk of his investigative journalism in one understandably paranoid package, with music by the Kronos Quartet to boot.

  • An engrossing doc that manages to provide shocking revelations without coming off conspiratorial, a feat certainly aided by the fact that the C.I.A., which runs the drone program, has never shied from controversial methods to advance American interests around the world.

  • As a polemic, Dirty Wars is provocative and productively depressing, raising doubts about the effectiveness of military missions that have the potential to create ideological enemies, as well as the degree to which elected officials can—or are willing to—place checks on secret ops. (Obama gets no more points than Bush in any of the matters discussed.) As filmmaking, the movie seems overly focused on Scahill himself, who not only narrates but also serves as an onscreen guide.

  • If the skeptical viewer holds on tight, "Dirty Wars" becomes hard to swat away, no matter how much its style conveys unconscious insecurity about its assertions. Jeremy Scahill, the movie's narrator and principal subject, is persuasive.

  • There's a hint of narcissism to manner in which Scahill places himself within the story, and the film sometimes underscores the heady traumas of life as a privileged journalist as much as it does the atrocities that have been uncovered... Yet despite these formal blunders, Rowley's film is strong almost despite itself.

  • Bolstered by strong evidence and persuasive footage (disclosure: one of the film’s producers, Anthony Arnove, is a former colleague of mine at the political magazine In These Times), the doc resists becoming a factual slog—mostly—by remembering the human dimension. Scahill himself takes scruffy center stage and narrates in a worried flow of thoughts, adding immeasurably to the diary-like feel.

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