Standard Operating Procedure [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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Witness one of the worst debacles in American military history. Enter Abu Ghraib. This award-winning documentary uncovers the dramatic series of events that led to torture, international outrage, and forced a president to apologize to the world.
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I don't think anyone denies the attrosities that happened in this prison/interegation station. I think the only things that are still somewhat hidden/denied/ignored are the names behind the exact horrors and the depth of knowledge (of these actions) by those who should have been on top of every detail.
Be prepared for the real nitty-gritty. This documentary is not meant for an after-dinner social hour and certainly not for children, those who are squeemish or those people who are proud of the actions (or lack-there-of) of then President Bush, his Staff, our Government Officials and a few Generals.
Be prepared for some hard-core, hard hitting facts with picture proof.
The reviewer makes clear that he believes the film spends too much time "humanizing" the military personnel when instead it should have been placing blame. He wanted the film to single out the civilian interrogators as the responsible persons so that, I guess, we can wipe our hands and move on.
It's distressing that his is the top-rated review because he is doing the precise thing that the film magnifies to absurdity: Telling the simple story, reaching the simple conclusion, identifying the "bad guys," and being satisfied with your tidy little explanation.
It's easier to theorize about human behavior than it is to look at it.
It's easy to look at the photos from Abu Ghraib and construct stories. A social psychologist might say that Abu Ghraib illustrates the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment. An economist might say that "rational" people were responding to grim incentives. An evolutionary biologist might say that Abu Ghraib merely shows apes gone amok amid environmental pressures. A neurochemist might say that the military personnel were experiencing a severe chemical imbalance in the brain.
It's hard to do what Errol Morris did, which is to examine the events that actually happened and listen to the people involved. The result -- this movie -- shows how grossly inadequate simple stories can be.
Before watching Errol Morris's films, it's important to understand that he does not make traditional "issue" or "historical" documentaries like you might see on PBS. His purpose is not to document factual events, although that's part of it. Errol is after deeper truths--not just what happened, but why it happened, what it means, what it can tell us about ourselves.
If Standard Operating Procedure does not make you think about anything other than what happened at Abu Ghraib and who's responsible, then I wonder whether you were really paying attention.
In "Standard Operating Procedure," famed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris ("The Thin Blue Line") attempts to uncover the truth behind those photographs, mainly by allowing those who were most closely involved with the scandal to tell the story in their own words (including Private First Class Lynndie England, who, whether fairly or unfairly, emerged as the one clearly identifiable "face" and household name from the scandal). Morris provides no voiceover narration to accompany the interviews, just re-enactments of the incidents done in a quasi-surrealistic style, using slow motion photography and artsy graphics.
Through his discussions with the principal players in the drama, Morris provides a probing study of the effects of war time stress on the human psyche. The film offers no easy answers as to exactly why the events at Abu Ghraib unfolded as they did; yet, while it doesn't turn the individuals involved into easy-to-blame villains, it doesn`t completely exonerate them either. In fact, it is the seeming "normalcy" of these people, as they attempt to make their case for the camera, that renders their actions all the more unsettling. Morris also makes it clear that these low level individuals - many of whom have served time in prison for their crimes - were most certainly used as scapegoats for higher-ups in the military who managed to successfully deflect any personal culpability for the events that took place there.
In a true journalistic coup, Morris was able to obtain grainy home movies shot at the same time that the pictures were being taken. As a result, we're able to witness the step-by-step process by which that infamous shot of the naked men stacked in a pyramid formation ultimately came about.
"Standard Operating Procedure" doesn't successfully address all the questions it sets out to answer, but that is hardly a weakness of the film, since it is dealing with a complex, messy situation involving complex, messy people caught up in a complex, messy war. One doesn't leave "Standard Operating Procedure" necessarily more enlightened that when one went in - just more well-informed. And that's perhaps the best one could reasonably hope for under the circumstances.
The customer review section of an Amazon product page is a poor venue for a discussion of the historical truth underlying this disgraceful episode in our history, but anyone who watches this film dispassionately should, I think, conclude that Morris is making a much more complex suite of points, both historical and philosophical, than the other reviewer suggests. This is a beautifully executed work and I found it more morally grounded and serious than Morris's previous work--which I generally like, but which at times has been a bit hyper-stylized and marred by an addiction to tilted camera angles and the exhibitionistically vertiginous musical jackhammerings of Philip Glass (Danny Elfman provides a great and original score here).
It's clear that Morris has more disdain for the Bush administration than for the participants at Abu Ghraib, and many who view the film may be skeptical of the moral veracity of all interviewees here, but this is well worthy of attention as a contribution to current history and to the art of the documentary film. And its moral earnestness points a way toward our collective expiation of a dismal period in our history (and that of the world).
Due to Mr. Morris' balanced portrayal of the soldiers and honest attempt to get at the truth of the whole sorry mess, one actually comes to somewhat like- or at least feel a little sympathy for- the prison keepers who were interviewed, despite their unquestionably insensitive activities in the photographs. An audio commentary by Mr. Morris and a fascinating collection of deleted scenes further fuel the film's supposition that perhaps the net of blame should have been cast a little wider during that whole sad episode in the Iraq conflict.
"Standard Operating Procedure" looks and sounds great on standard DVD, with composer Danny Elfman's minimalist and haunting music somehow channeling the best work of Philip Glass, Mr. Morris' usual composer, on the moodily effective soundtrack.