Soldier's Pay

Hypersensitivity over the upcoming Presidential elections and the War in Iraq derailed the initial release of Soldier's Pay, a short film that Warner Bros originally intended to released the film with a studio re-release of Three Kings and package is as part of the DVD, but balked. Cinema Libre came to the rescue. In the past few months, this small production/distribution company has released Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties, Uncovered: The War on Iraq (which this film currently screens with), and Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election. All are documentaries that lean to the Democratic side, some much more than others.

Many have mistakenly called Soldier's Pay "anti-war." While one can interpret it this way, it is more apolitical than anything else. Directors David O. Russell (I [Heart] Huckabees, Three Kings), Tricia Regan (A Leap of Faith), and Juan Carlos Saldivar (90 Miles, Story of the Red Rose) take pains to interview people on both sides of the political spectrum, providing opposing opinions on the rightness or wrongness of the invasion or Iraq. Speaking most forcefully on the for side are various Iraqi refugees, tortured under the Hussein regime. Russell actually used some as extras in Three Kings.

Russell, Regan, and Saldivar allow their subjects to speak for decent amounts of time without interruption. This provides for some thoughtful and impassioned commentary from both sides. The quality of some of the interviews is pretty bad, but Soldier's Pay isn't about the cinematography. The directors shot this on a micro budget. Most amazing is the story of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Army. During a raid, they discovered millions of dollars of cash. This mirrors events in Russell's fictional Three Kings. Some of the soldiers decided to take some, and the military later seem to scapegoat one of them, ignoring the fact that his superiors were there and did not receive any sort of punishment. This bridges into a section that many probably interpreted as anti-war, a segment about the almost pathetic quality of supplies.

Michael Moore touched upon this in Fahrenheit 9/11, but like other documentaries that intersected with his, Soldier's Pay does a much better job of presenting the story. The army was in crucial need of gear like gas masks and armor. Soldiers described how they had to scrounge for parts. Meanwhile, private companies hire contractors with exorbitant salaries to do things like drive trucks. So while soldiers lacked proper body armor and water, the private industry (most notably Kellogg, Brown & Root, the infamous subsidiary of Halliburton) had the best of everything. The disparity between the two is pretty shocking, and like the rest of the film, causes one to think some more about how they feel about the war.

Gerf Rates It: Pretty Good.
35 minutes, Not Rated but would probably be a PG or PG-13.

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