People often rightfully condemn and denounce the actions committed by terrorists, and recognize them as being evil and malicious acts against mankind. But little is publicly discussed about how easily the soldiers looking over the terrorists in prison can carry out the same human rights violations when they become discontent with the system ruling over their actions. This heartbreaking role reversal is compelling explored in the intriguing new thriller, ‘Boys of Abu Ghraib,’ which opens on Friday in select New York theaters. Filmmaker Luke Moran, who made his feature film writing directorial debuts with the movie, and also produced and starred in the drama, captivatingly showcased the integrity of many American soldiers. But he also captivatingly explored the extreme lengths some will take when they feel they’ve been wronged by the detainees they’re supposed to be protecting.
‘Boys of Abu Ghraib’ follows naïve, small town America soldier Jack Farmer (Moran) as he ships overseas to the infamous prison in Iraq for a six-month tour in mid-2003. The enlistee has trouble adapting to military life in the wake of the fall of Baghdad and the dictator’s relinquishing of his presidency. While missing his family and loved ones, including his father, Sam (John Heard) and girlfriend, Peyton (Sara Paxton), and suffering from boredom from not being on the frontlines of the war and only patrolling the prison, Jack decides to volunteer to guard the Army’s highest priority detainees.
Jack is pressured by his superior, Tanner (Sean Astin), into using harsh techniques on the detainees, a procedure he is initially weary of taking part in. His conscious continues to deter him from taking part in the brutality when he forms an unexpected bond with a seemingly innocent prisoner, Ghazi Hammoud (Omid Abtahi). But when Jack is informed his time in Iraq has unexpectedly been extended another six months, and Captain Hayes (Scott Patterson) tells him he’s too valuable to the team to be granted his two-week leave to visit his family in America, the seductive appeal of war quickly turns to a haunting reality that threatens to break Jack.
As both the writer and director of the mystery thriller, Moran made a conscientious effort to showcase and emphasize the emotional and physical struggles soldiers regularly face while serving in the Army, particularly those like Jack who weren’t regularly in the field completing life-saving missions. The filmmaker emotionally captured the monotony boredom and uselessness the soldiers who were assigned more tedious assignments, like watching over the detainees in the prison, often contend with while serving.
As an actor, Moran powerfully highlighted the polarizing beliefs an inexperienced soldier like Jack would feel as he embarked on a new assignment he had no training in. His portrayal of Jack in ‘Boys of Abu Ghraib’ grippingly shows the significant and life-altering experience many naïve and morally strong soldiers begin to face as their superiors pressure them to commit atrocities or human rights violations they initially oppose. Moran compassionately presented Jack as valuing human life and wanting to believe everyone, including Ghazi, is capable of good and deserving to be protected if they’re honest and repentant. But the more brutality Jack witnesses from the other soldiers on duty with him towards the dangerous detainees, and the injustices he hears the prisoners committed against innocent civilians before they were captured, the more he understandably begins to accept and embrace the violence.
While Moran both captivatingly wrote and portrayed Jack as a strong-willed soldier who wanted to honestly serve his country while in the army, but understandably buckled under the pressure as he witnesses the atrocities that are regularly being committed, the rest of the drama’s story unfortunately failed to uphold the same potential. The scribe disappointingly failed to thoroughly explore Jack’s true connections with his fellow soldiers or family, or offer any detailed explanations on why he joined the army. The at-times uninspired story spent so much time chronicling the soldier’s determination to stay strong to his morals that it was unfortunately unsuccessful in showcasing his relatability as a fully compassionate, intriguing person to everyone around him.
‘Boys of Abu Ghraib’ is a respectable exploration of the difficulties soldiers face when they feel they aren’t given the opportunity to live up to their full potential, and are required to follow every command given to them by their superiors. Moran captivatingly chronicled the hardships eager and determined, but at-times naïve, soldiers like Jack regularly faced in his writing, directorial and acting efforts. While the filmmaker grippingly showed the important and life-altering experience many naïve and morally strong soldiers begin to face the longer they serve their missions, the overall story unfortunately failed to fully explore Jack’s mindset and history. The film does offer some insight into the mindsets of soldiers like Jack and the reasoning they began to take part in the war atrocities against the detainees. But its lack of a full exploration into his motivations makes the story and character relationships feel trite and uninteresting, leaving viewers still wondering who the soldiers really were.