Movie review: ‘Only the Dead’ confronts brutal realities of Iraq war
“Only the Dead” is about as grisly as war documentaries get, a bloody, frank look at the havoc unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, captured by the body-cam of Time magazine correspondent Michael Ware during his seven years on the scene there.
The power of the film is undercut a bit by Ware’s sometimes over-earnest narration — we get it, things were awful, we can freaking see that — but at the same time you can certainly understand why the guy’s still shell-shocked.
Ware arrives in Baghdad pretty much at the same time as American troops. At first things seem fairly normal, but after a bit of time — and really, who could’ve seen this coming? — some Iraqis decide they don’t really appreciate being occupied by a foreign superpower. And they start fighting back.
Ware immediately realizes these terrorists/freedom fighters/whatever are a story unto themselves. So he meets up with rebels, films them as they launch mortars at a U.S. Base, and tries to capture their side of things.
This brings him to the attention of the most fanatical and bloodiest rebel leader, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Eventually Al-Zarqawi sends Ware tapes of beheadings and other atrocities. Ware, of course, starts to feel more than a bit morally conflicted by this.
The film follows Al-Zarqawi’s misdeeds — suicide bombings, the killing of journalists, full-on battles for control of towns — while Ware is also embedded with U.S. troops, going into battle right alongside soldiers. Except he doesn’t have a gun, just a camera. He’s there as people get shot and killed, he’s there after suicide bombers detonate, and it’s all very graphic and disturbing.
Again, Ware overplays his hand by repeatedly telling us how disturbing it is. But the images he captures can’t be ignored. He ends on a long, brutal note, watching a man gasp for his last few breaths. If there’s any glory in war, it can’t be found here.
Tom Long is the former film critic for The Detroit News
‘Only the Dead’
9 p.m. Monday