‘Soldier’s Pay’ is a rarely honest documentary

'Soldier's Pay' provides a small insight into a large conflict
‘Soldier’s Pay’ provides a small insight into a large conflict

Soldier’s Pay was a short documentary that was supposed to accompany the DVD re-release of Three Kings, David O. Russell’s film starring George Clooney about a group of United States soldiers who attempt to steal millions in Iraqi gold during the first Gulf War. After it was completed, Warner Bros. elected to drop its plans to re-release the film on DVD, and severed its ties with the short.

The film was later picked up by Cinema Libre, which has since distributed the film as a companion with UNCOVERED: The War in Iraq (read that review here). It was also aired on IFC last night.

I had gotten the tape of this documentary a few weeks ago and had watched it then, along with the DVD of UNCOVERED. I was honestly surprised with the low-production quality of the documentary, but found its content to be much more interesting and revealing of the present situation than the feature-length documentary it accompanies.

Soldier’s Pay features a collection of interviews with several soldiers who served in Iraq during and after the invasion, as well as former Iraqis who lived in that country during Saddam Hussain’s rule — and were also actors in Russell’s actioner, Three Kings. There is also a politician who appears in support of the Bush Administration.

The film is pretty basic for the first half. It highlights interviews with the former Iraqi citizens who discuss the horrors they experienced under Hussain’s rule. But it isn’t until we get to the U.S. soldiers who discuss their experience in Iraq that the short gets really interesting.

This group of soldiers discuss how they discovered millions of dollars in U.S. bills and proceeded to plot out how to steal it. Mirroring the plot of Three Kings, the attempted theft appears to include soldiers and their superiors. However, the plot unraveled and the money was never taken. Only one person was punished for the apparent crime, and no one seemed to know exactly what happened to the money afterwards.

Russell’s short, while attempting to be balanced with the comments by Representative David Dreier, provides an honest and often dour view of the efforts in Iraq. But what makes it unique, I think, is that it doesn’t necessarily condemn the war but more or less criticizes the manner in which it was conducted.

One of the film’s interviewees, Michael Cooper, the director of Program Partnerships, Mercy Corps, said it best when he admitted that Hussain was a dangerous, terrible dictator, and needed to be deposed. However, that wasn’t the logic the Bush Administration used to engage in the war. Instead, he opted to push the weapons of mass destruction and terror link logic, which was never particularly strong and has since proven virtually false.

Had Bush promoted the necessity of war to get rid of Hussain for his mistreatment of the Iraqi people, perhaps support for the action would have been different, Cooper asserted.

I’ve watched a lot of documentaries in the last few months that address the war on Iraq and President Bush, yet this short film stands out for me as one of the most honest. It doesn’t try to make some grandiose statement on the war, but instead provides a small window for people to learn something about the people involved on both sides of the conflict, American and Iraqi.

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