“Dirty Wars” is an angry story told by an angry man. It follows war reporter Jeremy Scahill as he chases the shadows of American covert operations worldwide.
The award-winning documentary premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2012 and is set for theatrical release this week.
If you’ve followed the U.S. military’s foreign involvement since 9/11, parts of the story will be familiar. Scahill tackles issues from Blackwater to drone attacks to the assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son.
But the stories in “Dirty Wars” are much more personal than those told by the major media outlets — Scahill goes straight to the people most affected by U.S. military involvement.
Some of the details he uncovers are sickening. In Afghanistan, Scahill encounters a family victimized by a botched “kill mission.” Members of the family recall with horror the night U.S. military forces mistakenly shot and killed two pregnant women outside their small home in the town of Gardez.
After the shooting, a local man captured cell phone video of the U.S. soldiers carving the bullets from the corpses and fabricating their own version of what happened.
“Dirty Wars” is filled with stories like these—death seems to be around every corner. Considering the appalling details Scahill uncovers and the stubborn resistance from the U.S. government, it’s surprising that he is able to tell the story so evenly, without resorting to propaganda or melodrama. Instead of pointing fingers and assigning blame, Scahill channels his anger with questions—some of which he rightfully leaves unanswered.
Aside from being a powerful political commentary, “Dirty Wars” also works effectively as narrative. The story is almost as much about Scahill himself as it is about the wars. Director Rick Rowley paints a picture of a man consumed by obsession. His face becomes a portrait of the frustration and incredulity of a world that is sick of war.
Rowley also functioned as the cinematographer, winning the Cinematography Award at Sundance. He fills the story with frame after frame of rich visual poetry. It is astonishing to see such beauty in the coverage of such an ugly subject.
As with many documentaries, this film requires a skeptical eye. Luckily, the filmmakers understand this, allowing the audience to ponder the issues as the stories unfold. You don’t have to buy into any conspiracy, but “Dirty Wars” will provide you with plenty to chew on.
“Dirty Wars” is available on Netflix streaming video and can be seen in select theaters starting Oct. 25.