TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - After directing documentaries for the past quarter-century, Nick Broomfield (“Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer,” “Kurt & Courtney,” “Biggie and Tupac”) has taken on his first dramatic narrative with “Battle for Haditha.”
Portraying the events leading to the November 19, 2005, killing of 24 Iraqi noncombatants at the hands of U.S. Marines, the film retains many of the cinema verite qualities of Broomfield’s previous works, lending it a powerful, devastating immediacy.
Part re-creation, part speculation, and formulated from hundreds of interviews, the docudrama has set out to put a personal face on the Iraq War, and no matter the vantage point, that human cost on both sides is inexorably tragic.
One of the most affecting of the recent rash of similarly themed films, the British production should have no trouble courting North American distributors following its Toronto International Film Festival premiere.
Shot in Jordan, “Haditha” makes an effort to spend as much time with those young American soldiers (several of whom are played here by actual ex-Marines) as it does with the Iraq families living in constant fear of terrorists, along with a middle-age man and another not much younger than those Marines, who would at first appear to be a father and son but turn out to be insurgents.
After establishing the parallel day-to-day existence, Broomfield then ratchets up the tension as those insurgents patiently wait for a Marine convoy to pass over a roadside improvised explosive device.
When the moment arrives, one of the men activates the bomb with his cell phone, blowing one Marine apart and badly injuring two others.
Seeking vengeance and hopped up on a diet of caffeine and death metal, the surviving Marines retaliate by conducting a violent house-to-house search for the perpetrators.
By the time the smoke clears, two dozen Iraqi civilians, many of them women and children, are dead.
With its dialogue largely improvised by many who had seen extensive combat in Iraq, “Haditha” has a gripping authenticity lacking in other similarly themed dramas.
One of those individuals is Elliot Ruiz, a former U.S. Marine corporal who had been told by doctors that he might never be able to walk unassisted again after badly damaging his leg during an insurgent attack in Tikrit.
Having since taken up acting, his performance as the conflicted Cpl. Ramirez lends the film a particular poignancy.
Back in the real world, the Haditha trials are about to get under way at Camp Pendleton, almost two years after the incident.