Released into theaters on the fifth anniversary of the 2003 Iraq War when the number of U.S. soldiers killed topped 4000, producers/directors Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro's powerful documentary takes a microcosmic look at the war and its devastation by focusing on a single casualty: Tomas Young, a 25-year-old enlistee from Kansas City, MO, who returned from Iraq after a brief tour of duty paralyzed from the chest down.
Like a lot of future American soldiers, Young went down to his local recruitment office in the days after 9/11 determined to help stop the people who had wreaked such destruction on his country. Young expected to go to Afghanistan but eventually wound up in the Baghdad suburb known as Sadr City where, in April, 2004, just five days into his first mission, he was shot in the chest just below his left collarbone. The bullet severe his spinal cord before exiting through his back. After three short months of rehabilitation, Tomas returned to Kansas City in a wheelchair, unable to control his bodily functions or his body temperature, and subject to dizziness, urinary tract infections, depression and a host of other physical and psychological ailments. Luckily he had his parents, two younger brothers -- one of whom was about to deploy to Iraq with the U.S. Army -- and a faithful fiancee, Brie, who married him soon after during a rainstorm and promised to stick by his side. With little else to do but eat, sleep and listen to what he now understood to be lies being told about Iraq, Tomas decided to make his anger and frustration over what was being done in the name of "freedom" heard. Tomas and Brie spent their honeymoon at the co-called Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas, the ad hoc encampment set up by supporters of Cindy Sheehan who had traveled to the Bush ranch in the summer of 2005 hoping for a meeting with President Bush. Though considerably weakened by his injuries, the experience galvanized and inspired Tomas, who began appearing in front of schools, local community groups and churches to speak out against the war in Iraq, before reaching a national audience with an appearance on 60 Minutes.
Donahue, who became a different kind of wartime casualty when his candid skepticism during the build-up led directly to the cancellation of his MSNBC talk-show, and acclaimed documentary filmmaker Spiro intercut Tomas's struggle to come to terms with his injuries while embarking on his new mission with footage from the October, 2002, Congressional debates over passing the Iraq War Resolution -- the only green light the Bush administration needed to invade Iraq. Amid all the saber-rattling and fear mongering over WMDs (in retrospect it's revealing to hear how the war's supporters, John McCain and Hillary Clinton among them, use the exact same sound bites put forth by the White House), there are a few reminders that cooler heads did try to make themselves heard, but to no avail. The film ends with a meeting between Tomas and Senator Byrd of West Virginia, perhaps the most eloquent of the brave few who dared to voice caution, urging Congress to consider the potential cost of the war in human and economic terms. It's a dramatic conclusion to a powerful film, set to a bombastic score that some may find a bit heavy handed (Eddie Vedder's original songs are also heard on the soundtrack). But at the months drag by and the body count continues to rise, the time for subtlety may be long past. leave a comment --Ken Fox