The War Tapes

The brief opening credits appear over a night-vision image of two men—insurgents, presumably—being acquired by crosshairs and blown to bits. Within minutes, there’s another night-vision image, shot by Spc. Mike Moriarty, of his own infant daughter, in close-up. What’s good about Deborah Scranton’s documentary is also what’s unsettling: It gets inside soldiers’ minds, where the mood tends to be anxious and the imagery poignantly absurdist. Instead of embedding herself with the New Hampshire National Guard unit to which she had official access, Scranton gave cameras to a handful of the Guardsmen and told them to record their tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. Then she edited thousands of hours of their footage into an epigrammatic 97 minutes. The variously and increasingly disgruntled grunts don’t endure much direct combat, but their jittery anticipation is its own kind of hell, and there’s no small amount of carnage in any case. The view is necessarily a narrow one, but a faithful act of bearing witness nonetheless. It’s especially sobering to watch the battered men go home and try to become civilians again.

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