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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Dirty Wars review: the self-perpetuating “War on Terror”

Dirty Wars green light

An infuriating and depressing look at how American foreign policy and warfare have been transformed in highly undemocratic ways, and a reminder of what real journalism looks like.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

What the hell does the United States consider legitimate warfare today? Drone attacks on civilians in places where no declared war exists. Targeted assassinations of American citizens. Military raids that do nothing but turn indifferent or even friendly foreigners into enemies, ensuring that peace can never be achieved and making no damn sense at all, unless self-perpetuating warfare is actually the goal. If you’re already aware of how American foreign policy and warfare have been transformed in highly undemocratic ways, it’s partly down to veteran war correspondent and military journalist Jeremy Scahill; you’ve seen him on The Rachel Maddow Show and read his stuff at The Nation; he just joined Pierre Omidyar’s new venture The Intercept. Here, with the help of filmmaker Rick Rowley, Scahill leads us through his years-long investigation into what U.S. has really been up to militarily in the Middle East and elsewhere, which started when he got a little too curious about a NATO raid in Afghanistan and couldn’t let go of the very disturbing things he discovered, and led him all the way to the White House. What this Oscar-nominated documentary reveals is infuriating and depressing in the same ways that much of today’s current events are: coverups by the powerful of their own misdeeds, and different notions of justice for the connected; and Orwellian manipulation of the facts, wherein everything is a lie told by a madman to be denied until it’s suddenly a triumphant truth that everyone knew all along. But this is notable, too, as an instructive reminder of what real journalism looks like, and what it takes to ferret out the facts. A press pass and a military minder don’t get you close to reality; stepping off a beaten path, literally and figuratively, and showing up “where journalists never show up to ask questions” does. See this movie, which cuts right through the bullshit of our overlords, and piss them off.


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Dirty Wars (2013)
US/Can release: Jun 7 2013
UK/Ire release: Nov 29 2013

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (contains real images of bloody injury detail and dead bodies)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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  • RogerBW

    I wonder how many converts this will make. Alas, most people have picked partisan positions already, and seem to be unaffected by mere facts.

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