Release Date: April 25 (limited)
Director: Errol Morris
Cinematographers: Robert Chappell and Robert Richardson
Studio/Run Time: Sony Classics, 100 mins.
War film tells it straight
Though it has hamstrung Hollywood’s efforts to fictionalize its too-real horrors, the Iraq War has been a boon to documentarians insofar as a bottomless swamp is a muckraker’s holiday. In Standard Operating Procedure, Errol Morris’ clear-sighted examination of the Abu Ghraib debacle (in which American soldiers of the 372nd MP Company naively chronicled their own criminal debasement of Iraqi detainees), the filmmaker thoughtfully reconstructs events with an eye not for polemics but the unmuddied truth (several truths, in fact, as assessed by the various enlisted young men and women who witnessed the events, many of them now incarcerated). For the most part, this film hates not the players but the game. Its talking-head interviews, dramatic interludes and painstaking use of actual photos (far more than previously seen in any media) create a devastating and graphic illustration of the philosophy Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” Even as Morris helps rehabilitate Lynndie England, the most demonized of the soldiers, his rigorous method assembles a harrowing mosaic of the corrupt and dysfunctional culture that encouraged her actions.