A couple of years ago, filmmaker Thom Anderson remarked to me that all films about war, even those that aim to show its injustice, are prowar.
War Made Easy might be the first film I've seen since hearing Anderson's assertion that effectively counters such a claim. Admittedly, Anderson was likely referring only to dramatic movies, especially those produced by Hollywood. Yet even a contemporary doc such as Fahrenheit 9/11 not only takes the honor of military force for granted but spins it into a cause for voice-over dramatics. In contrast, War Made Easy codirectors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp's documentary uses Norman Solomon's recent book to perform an autopsy on the now-zombified propaganda surrounding post-1940s US war.
Alper and Earp's doc skips smart-ass sarcasm and the usual air of incredulity in order to make complex points clear, and it does so skillfully and quickly. It still has moments when horror and humor commingle, such as when various embedded TV reporters cream their business slacks or loaned camouflage gear during assertions of love for aircraft such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the A-10 Wart Hog.
George Santayana's famous statement that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it is proven without a doubt throughout War Made Easy. A parade of presidents mouths variations of the same theme, which goes something along the lines of "We love democracy and peace so much that we have to murder others to maintain it."
With the passing of time, the words and phrases used to justify US military action have become increasingly debased and the puppets mouthing them more craven, until today, when we have George W. Bush repeating the word evil more often than an old metal album skipping on a turntable. Yet if evil exists, he and his cronies are exact embodiments of what they decry. Witness a moment in this movie when Bush describes Saddam Hussein as "a homicidal dictator addicted to weapons of mass destruction." (Johnny Ray Huston)
Americans no longer like the war in Iraq. They know it is not going well. Still, most don't really want to know how things got so bad. Ergo, there's probably not much hope No End in Sight will join the ranks of those rare recent must-see documentaries involving penguins, Global Warming 101, or Michael Moore. That's too bad, because Charles Ferguson's film has no preaching-to-the-converted tone or snarky on-camera filmmaker.
Ferguson, a sometime lecturer at UC Berkeley, draws on heavyweight connections to show how the administration continually matched arrogant, ignorant policy with new staff, people who — not unlike Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld — lacked experience in combat and postwar infrastructure rebuilding, let alone knowledge of Middle Eastern history, culture, and relations.
"I don't do quagmires!" Rumsfeld quips in one of several gag-inducing moments of news conference levity. It's repeatedly noted that Bush didn't read even the one-page summaries crafted for his wee attention span.
No End in Sight includes input from US and Iraqi scholars as well as former Pentagon, CIA, and White House staff, sorely disillusioned American military leaders, and grunts badly wounded by inept policy. This movie should be required viewing for all US citizens currently obsessed with gas prices, the wacky misadventures of Lindsay Lohan, and their navels. The DVD version is going to make a great Christmas present. (Dennis Harvey)
NO END IN SIGHT
Opens Fri/10 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com