Documentary film is by its very nature meant to manipulate, but sometimes it just goes a little too far. “Dirty Wars” is a film that goes deep into the nature of the variety of hidden wars that America is waging on multiple fronts but it sadly puts a little too much focus on its narrator then some of the atrocious acts that are going on overseas.
“Dirty Wars” follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, into the hidden world of America’s covert wars, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia, and beyond. Part action film and part detective story, this film is a journey into one of the more underreported stories of our time. What begins as a report on a deadly U.S. night raid in a remote corner of Afghanistan quickly turns into a global investigation of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). As Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is pulled into a world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams “find, fix, and finish” their targets, who are selected through a secret process. No target is off limits for the “kill list,” including U.S. citizens.
As this film tries to blur the lines between documentary and conspiracy laden political thriller, “Dirty Wars” just fails at both as it can’t help but put Scahill at the front of it all and when there is a conspiracy you just can’t put the guy who is screaming conspiracy on camera and make him as much of the focus as the cover-up. That being said, the film does raises some relevant points about the costs of personal freedom while managing to side step the facts that it is an impossibility to wage any kind of war without any sort of collateral damage. Combine that with the amount of holes that can be poked in Cahill’s story, it is a film that you know is telling us as the viewers something important, but something is just lost in the execution of it all. It tries to substitute passion and fervor for discussion when it need more of a well rounded debate over the real costs of war and the needs for certain layers of secrecy.
While “Dirty Wars” does enough to generate public debate and bring the story to the main stream media, it keeps too much of its focus on Scahill trying to focus this story into a very personal angle. After working on this story for years, Scahill is simply too close to it all, and when you have a conspiracy that you desperately want to shed light on, you don’t put the guy screaming “conspiracy” in the spot light as a cinematic subject, because he just pulls focus too much and it takes away from the point that the filmmakers want to get across.
2 out of 5 stars.
“Dirty Wars” is now playing exclusively at the Cineplex Yonge & Dundas cinemas here in downtown Toronto, please check local listings for show times.
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