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Full Battle Rattle

July 7, 2008  |  10:59pm
Full Battle Rattle

Release Date: July 9 (limited)
Directors/Cinematographers: Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss
Starring: Lt. Col. Robert McLaughlin, Bassam Kalasho, Nagi Moshi, Azhar Cholagh, Sgt. Paul Greene
Studio/Run Time: Film Forum, 85 mins.

In the middle of the Mojave Desert lies a United States Military base entirely devoted to training troops for the war in Iraq. This $1 billion-dollar installation’s method is simple: Send soldiers into the same conditions they’ll face abroad. To do so, the military has constructed 13 fake Iraqi villages for them to defend and hopefully institute U.S.-sanctioned rule. The only issue is that, quite obviously, the Iraqi villages and everything within them are entirely phony. What all of these fake missions in fake villages have to say about the real war on the other side of the world is anyone’s guess, but director/producers Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss are convinced it must be something.

Full Battle Rattle is their attempt to figure out what exactly that something may be, using two camera crews to record both sides of a simulated occupation. This is shot in the form of pseudo-cinéma vérité made so popular by The Real World, a style that’s now ubiquitous on television. For the most part the directors try to stay out of the way, but characters are allowed to give confessionals so long as they ignore the cameras for the rest of the time. Amidst the footage of this primary project, Gerber and Moss also recorded thoughts by the soldiers about their upcoming tour of duty and the experiences of ex-Iraqi citizens and soldiers who make up the citizens of “Medina Wasl.”

What’s problematic to the film is the same thing that undoubtedly attracted the directors to the subject—how very, very fake the whole thing is. Bad acting and cheesy props abound in the installation’s B-movie version of the Iraqi frontier, but far more problematic are the filmmakers themselves. Everyone is constantly posing for the camera, and it’s hard to guess how things would’ve shaped up without them. The commander of Full Battle Rattle’s U.S. troops, Lt. Col. Robert McLaughlin, spends more time mugging for the camera than commanding his troops. It’s obvious when McLaughlin reveals that he’s a devout follower of John Wayne films that he finds emulating his hero more important than getting through this silly ordeal as smoothly as possible.

The film is truly moving when it gets into the reality of the situation, where Iraqi immigrants are under threat of deportation. A moment when Sgt. Paul Greene, a commander of the enemy insurgents and veteran of two Middle East tours of duty, must reveal to his wife that the troop-actors are being recalled to active duty is one of the most moving moments of any war film, documentary or otherwise. But these sparks of reality are few and far between, and while the troops’ indifferent attitude towards Iraqis is unfortunate, it’s not really a shocking revelation. Full Battle Rattle succeeds at showing us that these simulations are largely a ridiculous affair. Indeed, this is such small stakes compared to the real war that the film can’t help but feel equally unimportant.

Watch the trailer for Full Battle Rattle:

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