Label: Palm Pictures
Author: Tom Doggett
Wartime documentaries do not appear on this site with much frequency. "Gunner Palace" is a special case, though, because an unexpected motif has been woven through this tale. The film is a narrative of the lives of a group of soldiers who are stationed in an abandoned palace in Baghdad. Their task is to aid in keeping the peace, which means to act as armed guards and investigate suspicious packages, among other things. A surprising and pleasantly fresh element has been added to the film, because the soundtrack consists mostly of gangsta rap. This adds a tension to the events as they transpire, as well as providing a perfect background for the visuals of armored jeeps roaring through the dusty streets of Baghdad. In addition, there are several scenes with freestyling soldiers, and each scene serves an important purpose instead of being gimmicky. Each cipher actually features the soldiers discussing their situations quite candidly, so more insight is provided to their plight.
Most Americans would agree that rap music and war are linked, but not in the way this documentary suggests. A musical battle is one thing, but the dangers these soldiers face each day are far closer than the lyrics of a rap song. In this sense, the music is there to heighten the mood, but also to remind the viewer how much more delicate and real the war is. Regardless of one's feeling about the necessity of the war in Iraq, the story of these soldiers will appeal to everyone, especially in an age in which nearly everyone at least knows of someone in Iraq.
"Gunner Palace" is constructed without a visible structure and intended to provide insight to the way of life for our soldiers across the ocean. There are numerous raids and missions that must be completed, and these moments appear sporadically in between periods of relative leisure back at the palace. This, combined with a sometimes frenetic pace, makes "Gunner Palace" quite a ride. As a work of cinema, it is never brilliant, because though always intriguing, the material is subtle on a scene-to-scene basis.
The rapping featured within the movie, aside from being quite good, functions as a logical outlet for these soldiers. There is a cipher or two that consists of strictly battling, which is a pure release for these pent-up characters. Other rhymes function more as spoken-word pieces, which have been well thought out and are executed almost flawlessly. Some of these soldiers are probably more comfortable rapping than simply talking to the camera, so the decision to include these candid moments is extremely effective. Without this, the film would still be intriguing, but the added element provides a serious edge to the proceedings.
In this polarized age, when everyone seems to have a specific opinion about the necessity of war, this documentary is an important tool. Though very few moments in the film actually address the two points of view, these moments, such as a soldier discussing anti-war sentiments, are done so as not to reveal the perspective of the directors. This objectivity is pleasant because of the obvious agendas of recent "documentaries" such as "Fahrenheit 911" that try to skew the war in one direction. This film is about the war and the people in it, and nothing else. More than any news special or anything else, people should turn to "Gunner Palace" to understand exactly what is going on with our troops. The tagline, "some war stories will never make the nightly news," is unbearably accurate.
A typical amount of extras will be found in the bonus section of the menu. These extras are likely not enough to increase the replay value of the film extravagantly. An intriguing selection of audio tracks featuring some of the soldiers freestyling may sway some consumers, as well as some deleted scenes. The main attraction, though, is the film. The extras are simply garnish.
This movie is not especially accessible. It is, after all, a documentary about war, which isn't the most pleasant topic. A comrade's death provides the saddest sequences, but the tragedy is not limited to this occurrence. The soldiers are shown having plenty of fun, but there is a sense of foreboding that permeates each scene. Even their occasional joy is restrained due to the setting, and it is clear that very few of them actually want to be there. Purchasing this DVD doesn't make sense because it will likely not be viewed more than a few times, but anyone who is remotely interested in the war in Iraq should pick "Gunner Palace" up. It is a true documentary on a topic that is rarely captured without bias.
Content: 8.5 of 10
Layout: 8 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 16, 2005