The grunts shot it; the director phoned it in.
On a strictly experiential level, Deborah Scranton's The War Tapes is remarkable, tactile, and eye-opening; as a piece of sociopolitical culture, with context and ramifications of its own, it's a worthless ration of war propaganda -- ethnocentric, redneck, and enabling. A journalist given clearance for embedment with the New Hampshire National Guard, Scranton instead handed out video cameras to a handful of Guardsmen, and her film is an edit of that footage -- plus predictable interviews with their families at home, worrying and bucking up. In fact, for all the edge-of-battle immediacy, the upshot of Scranton's assemblage is concern for the feelings of tremendously sympathetic American grunts as they bulldoze through the Arab landscape and disdainfully observe the indigenous populace from a distance, as if they were hyenas on the veldt. It's no surprise that the soldiers are prone to mercenary self-regard and care only about getting home, not about where they've been, what they've done, or why. But what about us? It's the lazy cinematic equivalent of a yellow ribbon magnet.