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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Gitmo: The New Rules of War
Gitmo: The New Rules of War
Red Envelope Entertainment // Unrated // Netflix-exclusive; not for sale
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Linksynergy]
Review by David Cornelius | posted December 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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In a memo regarding the interrogation methods used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay - namely the brutal practice of prolonged standing, in which a prisoner is required to maintain a single position for unbearable lengths of time - former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld had scribbled in the margins: "I stand 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" That Rumsfeld, and many others in the current administration, fail to comprehend the complete idiocy of his own comment is a key factor in understand just how the war on terror has gone wrong, and just why torture is not viewed by those in power as the horrid, ineffective method it actually is.

This memo is just one of the many disturbing revelations in "Gitmo," the latest in an ever-growing line of documentaries shedding light on the shadier side of current events. Like many in its genre, the film is not top-shelf cinema, but it is excellent reporting, as Swedish filmmakers Erik Gandini and Tarek Saleh dig deep to find out just what's going down at Gitmo (the soldiers' nickname for the Cuban-based military center).

The film then plays out not only as a piece of journalism revealing the problems within the entire American military infrastructure in terms of the approval of torture and a lack of accountability in the chain of command, but as the story of their investigation. Gandini and Saleh inform us of their every move, especially in terms of who would not agree to be interviewed for the film, and why. (Some refused to return calls, others were denied permission by their superiors.)

"Gitmo" evolves in front of us, beginning as an investigation into the detention of a Swedish citizen accused of being an "enemy combatant" (the term used by the military to avoid granting enemies a "prisoner of war" status and therefore being obligated to treat them under the proper wartime codes), slowly turning into an examination of how the military treats the press (Gandini and Saleh are given the sanitized tour, complete with a visit to the camp's golf course), and then, finally, becoming a bitter look at the use of torture in general by American contractors (who are not military officials and therefore not bound by anti-torture military rules).

There's a lack of focus that comes from such on-screen evolution, and the filmmakers' presentation of the facts is a bit too scattershot. (At times this approaches frustrating proportions - the matter of the guilt or innocence of the imprisoned Swede seems intentionally avoided at times.) But Gandini and Saleh are going for more of a gut impact, an assault of ugly truths that come from wherever they can find them, as quickly as they can uncover them. We don't mind so much that the film rambles, because even if the whole doesn't click as tightly as it should, the individual pieces shock enough on their own.

And that's the movie's biggest strength: it lets each moment deliver its own impact, without further manipulation of the filmmakers. Consider one late scene, in which we can hear the screams of prisoners even while standing far outside the base. With a straight face, a military official tells us all that we are hearing the sounds of ordinary conversation and prayer. The filmmakers linger on these sounds, and on the face of the poor soldier who's so obviously lying but unwilling (unable?) to say anything else.

This scene is the very heart of "Gitmo," both the film and the place - the clutter of government doublespeak is the only thing separating the public from the truth. We can see over that wall but cannot break through it, and so we must cheer on the likes of Gandini and Saleh as they chip away, slowly but furiously.

The DVD

"Gitmo" is currently being released exclusively through "Red Envelope Entertainment," the new name for Netflix's distribution arm (formerly known as "Netflix First"). It is unavailable for rental or purchase anywhere other than through the online rental company. As of this writing, no plans have been announced regarding the title's availability elsewhere.

Video & Audio

Once again, we find a documentary working with a variety of source materials, with quality ranging from very good to shaky, depending. For what it is, there are no problems. Presented in the original 1.85:1 format, with anamorphic enhancement.

The stereo mix gets the same treatment: nothing special, considering the sources, but still effective. No feature-length subtitles are offered; the few scenes featuring dialogue not in English feature burned-in subs.

(Note: Netflix incorrectly lists the film as 2.35:1 widescreen, and their site also seems to incorrectly imply three separate audio tracks are offered, when only one - that features three languages throughout - is used.)

Extras

None.

Final Thoughts

Rent It
. Granted, you can't do anything else right now anyway, at least until some used copies go up for sale. But unless you're a serious collector of these types of documentaries, or are planning on having some political action get-together featuring a screening of this title, there's nothing on this disc that demands to be in your permanent collection.
Rent "Gitmo: The New Rules of War" now!
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