Battle for Haditha is the movie that Brian De Palma's Redacted wanted to be - and very possibly imagined it was. Yet Redacted failed miserably for the very same reasons Haditha succeeds. Both films use a vérité, fly-on-the-wall approach to examine horrific true-life incidents involving American soldiers stationed in Iraq. In De Palma's cri de coeur, it was the rape and murder of civilians in Mahmoudiya. Here it's the My Lai Massacre-like extermination of 24 Iraqis by U.S. Marines in retaliation for a terrorist bomb that killed several members of their squad.
Directed by British documentarian Nick Broomfield (Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Biggie and Tupac), Battle for Haditha feels unerringly real most of the time. The "video journal" sequences in which several grunts speak directly into the camera, offering their (usually jaundiced) take on the war, have the sting of truth. These off-the-cuff remarks don't sound fussily scripted like in Redacted, where the soldiers came across as if they were graduates from a David Rabe playwriting workshop. And the performances, mostly by non-pros like former Marine corporal Elliot Ruiz, who solidly anchors the film as voice-of-conscience squad leader Ramirez, only heighten the verisimilitude.
Broomfield skillfully uses parallel editing to implicate the audience in the appalling chronology of events. We watch as insurgents Ahmad (Falah Flayeh) and Jafar (Oliver Bytrus) surreptitiously plant an IED bomb; we see the Marines go about their daily "peacekeeping" chores as their nerves frazzle and fry; we eavesdrop on a typical Iraqi family busily preparing for their daughter's (Yasmine Hanani) wedding day. Knowing the outcome of all this "busyness" doesn't diminish the film's suspense. If anything, it merely heightens our anxiety, because we realize that every action - no matter how insignificant or trifling - is sure to have dire consequences. Battle for Haditha lays out the facts of the Haditha slaughter, forcing us to draw our own conclusions.