“Boys of Abu Ghraib” releases to select theaters on March 28.
What took place at Abu Ghraib was tragic, disgusting, and horrifying. What is shown in Luke Moran’s “Boys of Abu Ghraib” is intense and disturbing, but it doesn’t quite go into full detail on what actually happened. And while that’s disappointing, there is still quite a bit to be admired in Moran’s film.
“Boys of Abu Ghraib” is a war film without the war, for the most part. A mortar lands near the base here and there, but there isn’t any major combat. Jake Farmer (played by Moran), the film’s main protagonist, explains that the soldiers didn’t fight war; they “fought boredom.” This is more along the lines of a film like Sam Mendes’ “Jarhead,” or Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland,” both of which focused on the characters and left out the carnage of the battle.
The film opens on July 4, 2003, when everyone is celebrating Independence Day, and Jake’s family is getting ready to say goodbye, as he prepares for Iraq. They congregate, have dinner, and he runs off with his girlfriend, Peyton (Sara Paxton), for some alone time.
Once Jake leaves, we get introduced to the rest of his crew. They all get thrown into a prison, where the worst of the worst are being kept. Jake requests to become military police, and that’s where he meets Staff Sergeant Tanner (Sean Astin), who informs him that he shouldn’t get too close to the prisoners, and he shouldn’t be wearing the jacket which carries his name.
However, Jake is taken aback by how Tanner treats the prisoners. And even though he goes against orders, Jake befriends a detainee named Ghazi (Omid Abtahi).
Aside from a few detainees disobeying some orders, and Jake getting feces thrown at him, there isn’t too much explanation as to why the soldiers are behaving the way they are. Is it because they think no one will know? Is it because the inmates are doing things much worse, and that sets them off? Could they all have a post-9/11 mentality of thinking that all Iraqis are scum? “Boys of Abu Ghraib” doesn’t explain.
The torture scenes that are shown consist of one detainee’s face getting rubbed in his own urine, and Tanner waking everyone up with the sound of White Zombie’s “More Human than Human.” Ghazi is taken off screen for some torturing, but the viewer never sees it. It’s implied that he was waterboarded at least once, but we don’t know for how long, and we don’t know what else happens to him when he gets taken away.
Moran’s heart is in the right place, and he may have wanted to hold back from making the audience squirm in their seats. His camera angles, and the acting by him; Astin; and others, make for a pretty powerful ride in and of itself, and the ending is one that will floor you. But “Boys of Abu Ghraib” could have been fantastic if he had just explored the brutality of the torture a little bit more. As it is, it’s just a good war film, not a great one.