The more things change, the more they stay the same. Thus it should come as little surprise that while the events described in Winter Soldier
took place during the Vietnam conflict, the 2006 home video release of this 1972 documentary more or less coincides with recent, eerily similar revelations regarding the activities of U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq, including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the alleged slaughter of civilians in the town of Haditha. The film centers on a day in January, 1971, when more than 100 former soldiers turned up at a motel in Detroit to give testimony as part of an investigation sponsored by a group calling itself Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Their stories are genuinely chilling, as they matter-of-factly describe civilians being thrown from helicopters, villages burned, children shot, women raped, and innocent people tortured, maimed (cutting off their ears was popular), or even skinned; the notorious My Lai massacre of 1968 was apparently more the rule than the exception. Some eighteen documentary filmmakers took part in the making of this production, including Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.
) and Robert Fiore (Pumping Iron
). But there is no great artistry on display here--the film is mostly a succession of talking heads, appearing in grainy black & white (there are also a few photographs and occasional color film footage shot in Vietnam) and recounting how they were brainwashed into believing that the atrocities in which they participated were "in the best interests of our nation," as one puts it, especially since "it wasn't like (the Vietnamese) were human." Unlike Emile de Antonios In the Year of the Pig
, Winter Soldier
gives us nothing from the other side--the opposition to the opposition, if you will. All we have are the vets' terrible (and highly credible) tales of how officers who witnessed or took part in these horrors wrote them off as Standard Operating Procedure. Strong stuff, but the film starts to become repetitive and ultimately tedious after it passes the one hour mark. The abundance of bonus features, including a current interview with the filmmakers and three shorter films addressing the same theme as the main feature, will be of interest mainly to gluttons for punishment. --Sam Graham