Four Best Iraq War Movies

On Hardball with Chris Matthews last Tuesday, writer Wayne Slater suggested that Republicans are finally coming to terms with the fact that the Iraq War was “mismanaged”, which was quite the understatement in Matthews’s eyes. Ten years after U.S. troops rolled into Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, America is trying to assess the consequences of the war and is not happy about it. Polls show that most people agree that the war was a mistake. Conservative writer Peggy Noonan accurately described it in a Wall Street Journal column yesterday as one key reason why the GOP remains in dire straits.

Those who started it are conflicted; former Secretary of State Colin Powell has distanced himself, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair described complex emotions about it it in his well-written memoirs, and former President George W. Bush won’t give any interviews about the war. The severely conservative former Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will, on the other hand, keep defending their mistakes till their dying breath; the latter even released a triumphant tweet from his compound somewhere, cheering the start of the war… and unleashing a storm of fury against him on Twitter.

The good thing to come out of the war is obviously that one of the region’s worst dictators is no longer alive. That’s no small feat. As TIME’s Bobby Ghosh wrote in a commentary, Saddam Hussein would probably have survived the Arab Spring. But that fact alone doesn’t excuse the way the war was rushed into, or that it was based on false premises. I also remember Republicans not exactly complaining about clueless Americans believing that somehow Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Whatever helped sell this new war was OK.

The Bush Administration’s handling of the war will suffer in people’s memories. But Hollywood did better. There have been several good and great movies about the Iraq War. If you only see four of them, these are the ones to catch (in no particular order):

  • Taxi to the Dark Side (2007). Alex Gibney, one of the finest American documentary filmmakers, examines U.S. torture practices from Afghanistan to Iraq. Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature.

  • The Hurt Locker (2009). Kathryn Bigelow’s portrayal of troops disarming bombs in Iraq became Jeremy Renner’s breakthrough and earned Oscars for Best Picture and Director.

  • Generation Kill (2008). The Iraq War has not been entirely reserved for the big screen. This ambitious HBO miniseries, starring Alexander Skarsgård, followed Marines in the early days of the war. 

  • Standard Operating Procedure (2008). Errol Morris followed in the footsteps of Alex Gibney, taking a hard look at Abu Ghraib in this engrossing documentary.

… and here’s one missed opportunity! There’s nothing wrong with Green Zone (2010); Paul Greengrass made a decent enough thriller, but as an adaptation of Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” it has nothing to offer. This is an instance where the book is a must-read, especially for those who want all the details of how poorly planned the Iraq War was.

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