April 14, 2008

Body of War

Reviewed by Martin Tsai
The documentary “Body of War” tells the story of 25-year-old Tomas Young. The sight of President George W. Bush standing on a pile of rubble that was once the World Trade Center compelled the then 22-year-old Tomas to call up an army recruiter on Sept. 13, 2001 to enlist. Tomas’s rude awakening came during his fifth day on duty in Iraq, when a bullet hit his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down. He never got to live out his dream inspired by the film “Top Gun.” Instead his life resembled that other Tom Cruise movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.” The embittered war veteran now devotes his life to anti-war causes.
On one hand, “Body of War” attempts to address the travails of paraplegia. The production seems to have missed out entirely on the arduous physical rehabilitation process at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (which the far superior documentary on medics, “Fighting for Life,” does cover). But “Body of War” does offer frank discussions on sexual and urinary dysfunctions among paraplegics in a way that surpasses the likes of “Murderball.” These functions that able-bodied folks take for granted present major challenges for paraplegics. In one memorable scene, Tomas requires his mother’s assistance in inserting a catheter while he has to urinate under broad daylight in a van.
On the other hand, “Body of War” is just another entry in the endless parade of Iraq war documentaries. It intersperses Mr. Young’s narrative with C-SPAN footage from the House and Senate floors, beating the same points into the ground. The C-SPAN material seems like filler, because the film never establishes a connection between the two narratives – that is until Mr. Young’s climactic meeting with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who in the most nauseating, self-congratulatory manner declares himself as one of the “Immortal 23” who voted against the Iraq war resolution in the Senate. To this end, “Body of War” is tactless and pointless. The film seems more interested in preaching to the choir than changing minds, since it doesn’t even bother feigning the slightest hint of neutrality so as to avoid alienating those on the fence or on the other side of the debate. Throwing in a couple of original songs by Eddie Vedder doesn’t make it more worthwhile, when moviegoers are already weary of the onslaught of anti-war documentaries that all seem indistinguishable from one another.
Reprinted from The New York Sun. © Copyright 2008 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.