The Ground Truth

on September 15, 2006 by Annlee Ellingson
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With the Iraq War now in its fourth year, operating under the manpower of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers, it's perhaps time to assess just how these warriors will integrate back into society when (or if?) the conflict ends. Documentarian Patricia Foulkrod has assembled a powerful testimony in which the answer is “not well.” Unfortunately, the case she builds is undermined by a ham fist in the final act.

Eschewing the crutches of voiceover or onscreen text, Foulkrod quite expertly crafts a clear narrative by threading remarkably candid interviews from a dozen soldiers and their loved ones. Amid a well paced combination of talking heads and effective montages to the tunes of The Roots, Mos Def and Tom Waits, a common storyline emerges: recruitment, which one interviewee says should come with a Surgeon General's warning; training, during which recruits are prepared for combat by dehumanizing the enemy; deployment to Iraq, where both equipment and a clear mission are in short supply; and the return home, where the skills they've learned in the military make for an ill-match in civilian life. Because there are so many voices at work here, some imbued with ambivalence, it's difficult to argue that this is the viewpoint of a disgruntled ex-employee.

Disappointingly, an hour in the picture gets repetitious and starts to drag, and ultimately the accumulated impact of the soldiers' stories is mitigated by a certain preachy tone the film takes on in its final act. It's uplifting to see damaged servicemen and -women heal through action, establishing activist organizations that offer services to fellow vets and raise awareness among the public as well as putting their skills to positive use in post-Katrina New Orleans. But by this time all subtlety has been lost. Directed, written and produced by Patricia Foulkrod. A Focus release. Documentary. Rated R for disturbing violent content and language. Running time: 72 min.

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