Iraq is front and centre in many films in recent years, none more so than this harrowing new work by documentarian Nick Broomfield. The film is a highly realistic, vérité-like fictional rendering of an incident that took place in the village of Haditha, a hotbed in the middle of the Sunni Triangle where much of the insurgency has taken place. In November 2005, a roadside IED (Improvised Explosive Device) killed one US Marine and wounded two others. Enraged fellow Marines exacted revenge by killing twenty-four Iraqis: men, women and children. Four Marines were subsequently charged with murder.
In Battle for Haditha, Broomfield sets out to recreate the incident, imagining the circumstances that provoked the violence and led to the massacre. Two realities, two cultures, two groups of men slowly intersect. The film starts innocuously enough, when we are introduced to American soldiers, streaking across the desert in their armoured Humvees. They drop into a local store to check out DVDs (!) and find themselves talking to a young male clerk whose fate is soon to be entwined with their own. Broomfield then switches his focus to the Iraqi reality, as two men pile into the back of a pickup truck for a quick lesson in the primitive mechanics of the IED. He meticulously details the daily routines of the two sides, foreign and local, juxtaposing the monotony of patrols with the waiting game played by the bombers. What we see is not a simple black-and-white reality. Ordinary people in extraordinary situations do violent and unexpected things.
Broomfield walks a tightrope, somehow managing to step back from the emotions of the event to find compassion and humanity – and their opposites – on both sides. At the same time, he shows the mind-numbing, brutal results of the violence that is unleashed. The film grimly renders the harsh realities of this quagmire where innocent civilians, simply trying to get by, are caught in the crossfire, victims of Americans who kick down their doors, and Iraqis who do the same thing. Broomfield forces us to follow him down this road through the sheer power of his imagery. We are spellbound: this is what it must be like to be there.
Piers Handling, Toronto Film Festival Programme