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Gunner Palace

Palace Presents Unflinching Glimpse of Life on the Front Lines

George W. has long insisted that the days of "major combat" in Iraq have come to an end, but Gunner Palace offers compelling evidence to the contrary. Directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's feature-length debut depicts the everyday trials and tribulations of the Army's 2/3 Field Artillery unit, known as the Gunners, whose base is Baghdad's Azimiya Palace, the lavishly constructed pleasure dome that once housed Saddam Hussein's son Uday. By day, soldiers take advantage of the palace's decadent facilities, enjoying a dip in the royal pool and a round at the driving range whenever time allows. But the danger they struggle to accept as an occupational hazard is very real -- eight Gunners died during filming, and the death toll continues to escalate as the fighting -- "minor combat", one soldier cracks -- continues abroad.

Does that make Gunner Palace an outright criticism of the Bush regime's handling of the war? Not necessarily. For every cringe-inducing incident -- the men of the 2/3 Field Artillery are often called upon to invade the homes of terrified civilians, hoping to sniff out would-be terrorists -- there is footage of American soldiers playing with Iraqi children and acting as benevolent peacekeepers. Privately, those same soldiers question their role in "liberating" Iraq, and worry that they have been forgotten by their own country. But they dutifully serve, patrolling the bombed-out city even as some of its citizens shower them with rocks and assorted debris.

In this sense, the documentary functions nicely both as a confirmation and rebuttal of the Bush administration's vision of the war and its stated objective. More importantly, Gunner Palace provides an insider's glimpse of the struggle in a way that no news report or Michael Moore documentary has. It is a shapeless film that approaches its material with no preconceived notion or thesis, presenting the conflict in reality-TV format and encouraging audiences to draw their own conclusions. While that doesn't always make for the most compelling of dramas, it is an indispensable and informative portrait of a controversial war and the young soldiers thrust into harm's way.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5