(director/writer: Richard Robbins; screenwriters:Brian Turner/Denis Prior/Colby Buzzell/Jack Lewis/Parker Gyokeres/Sangjoon Han/Ed Hrivnak/John McCary/Mike Strobl; cinematographer: Jason Ellson; editor: Gillian McCarthy; music: Ben Decter; read by Beau Bridges, Robert Duvall, Chris Gorham, Aaron Eckhart, Justin Kirk, John Krasinski, Josh Lucas, Blair Underwood; Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Richard E. Robbins; Documentary Group; 2007)
“Unique and emotionally moving documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Richard Robbins, an award-winning producer and director of documentaries for PBS cable and the network TV, helms this unique and emotionally moving documentary about ‘war is hell’ in his feature film debut. It grew out of a project created by the National Endowment for the Arts to collect writings from journals, letters, poetry, fiction, or essays by soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers’ heartfelt writings from their first-hand experience is read by the soldier-writer/poet Brian Turner and the following celebrities–Beau Bridges, Robert Duvall, Chris Gorham, Aaron Eckhart, Justin Kirk, John Krasinski, and Josh Lucas. Some of the touching writings include grisly tales of innocent Iraqi civilians mistakenly killed, a convoy ambushed and involved in a street shootout with the jihadist enemy, how uncomfortable are the living conditions for the troops bedded down in the hot desert in tents, a young dead soldier returned from Iraq and given a dignified burial in his small-town in the west, and the gruesome medical air evacuation of the wounded. The writing segments are either graphically illustrated or filled with video footage, as the works of the following soldiers are read aloud: Colby Buzzell’s “Men in Black,” Sangjoon Han’s “Aftermath,” Ed Hrivnak’s “Medevac Missions,” Parker Gyokeres’ “Camp Muckamungus,” “Brian Turner’s “Here Bullet,” “Ashbah,” and “What Every Soldier Should Know,” Denis Prior’ “Distant Thunder,” Jack Lewis’ “Road Work,” Mike Strobl’ “Taking Chance,” and Jon McCary’s “To the Fallen.” Also appearing are many established older writers, such as Tobias Wolff, to talk about other wars and what they all have in common.

The well-presented film is valued for its clearsighted and crisp observations of the war front by soldiers itching to communicate their “blood and guts” feelings and the uncovering of how back home this horrible war, that these earnest and brave young soldiers are asked to risk their lives for, has more or less become the forgotten war, except when it’s kicked around like a football by the political pundits. One established writer suggests the country becomes decadent when it loses sight of what the troops are doing and their daily hardships. This film (more like a PBS special than a film) does a great service by putting a human face behind the current tragedy and making it less abstract for the public; it also brings the human tragedy story to the public from the grunts point of view. What it lacks is a more deep-analysis of the current chaotic situation, as the time for the niceties about this wasteful and destructive mistaken war have long since passed.