The third entry in a series of nonfiction films from directors David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud about first-person experiences of combat, Danger Close is atypical for a war documentary. There have been many talking-head-and-stock-footage films about war in general and America’s current wars in the Middle East specifically. There have been a few docs made by embedded filmmakers providing an in-the-shit view of these wars, such as 2010’s Restrepo. What sets Salzberg and Tureaud’s trilogy apart is an enthusiasm for aestheticizing their material. They take their footage, often from soldiers’ helmet cameras, drones, and helicopters, and edit it to mimic a Hollywood action picture—complete with a bombastic score that almost never lets up.
Audiences of mainstream documentaries tend to lean left or centrist, or otherwise may be discomfited by a film that reads frankly as being pro- instead of anti-war. The filmmakers would doubtlessly assert that they are merely pro-troops, that they seek to recreate soldiers’ experiences and pay proper tribute to the sacrifices they make. Such an argument is buried under the rubble of the many explosions Salzberg and Tureaud present with glee. The film is stylized for maximum rush, turning real combat operations into what looks like Call of Duty compilations. That is morally abhorrent, cheapening the danger and death seen in this footage.
That stylization can’t even be said to be especially competent. Despite the wealth of access the filmmakers have, it’s often difficult to tell what’s going on in any given “action scene” (that this movie has “action scenes” is chilling), or to discern the geography of the journey taken by lead Alex Quade. Quade, a freelance journalist whose interview with a Pentagon official frames the film, is traveling to an outpost in Iraq named after a deceased soldier she befriended on an earlier assignment. She’s promised photos of the location to the young man’s family. The sequence in which she gets to know them and learns more about the man’s life is the doc’s sole redeeming quality, an oasis of genuine, unvarnished emotion. There’s one tremendously beautiful moment in which the man’s sister punctures a cup of coffee over his grave, in a variation on libation for the dead. But then it’s back to faux Tom Clancy shenanigans.
Danger Close fetes veterans less than it does Quade, who gets to talk herself up, often in an unseemly manner, coming across as braggadocios about her own bravery even as she pays lip service to the solemnity of her job. The specifics of what she actually does (such as, for instance, who she’s even reporting for) are elided. The question of why she couldn’t just get someone posted at the outpost she seeks to send pictures for the family is not asked. She insists it’s something she has to do herself, but again, that’s Hollywood logic, not anything resembling real motivation.
The events of the film mainly take place in 2007, and the fact that America’s quagmire in the region has only deepened since then further undermines any attempt to shower glory on this subject matter. Danger Close is the clumsiest sort of propaganda—disingenuous, crass, and past its expiration date.
Director: Christian Tureaud, David Salzberg
Writer: Eli Baldrige, Alex Quade
Starring: Alex Quade
Release Date: April 28, 2017