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Movie Review: Standard Operating Procedure at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008

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I am not someone who is familiar and knows the ins and outs of what has gone on with the war on terror. I obviously have heard of what’s going on, read the news and so on, but I haven’t gone any further to find out more information. The incidents this film tackles and explores are vaguely familiar to me but I in no way knew anything in-depth about them. Whether it's the nature of the incidents themselves or how the film presents them — I was shocked.

The documentary investigates and explores the accusations against U.S. soldiers regarding their mistreatment of suspected terrorists in Abu Ghraib, evidenced by thousands of photographs that were released.

Standard Operating Procedure is a film that I think must be seen. To my knowledge it is the first documentary to tackle the incidents at Abu Ghraib and the photos that were released, and if nothing else it acts, as many documentaries do, as a source of information. It’s not always an easy watch by any means, in fact some of it is extremely discomforting, but try and persevere through the difficult parts and I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

What makes the film so shocking — at times so much so that it’s jaw-dropping — is the fact that it’s based on fact. Not that the entire film is completely 100% the truth, as part of the filmmaking technique is to depict described incidents via re-enactments, but it’s far too in-depth and savvy about what happened for it to be made up. As someone from the West the news would have us believe that the Iraqis are completely the bad guys in this current war and that the US are all good and only want positive things to happen. And it deeply shocked me to see evidence in this film that they are doing wrong things too, they’re not always the “good guys”. The point, or at least one of them, that the film makes is that if someone were to tell you that certain US soldiers treated Iraqi prisoners badly then you could make up your own mind whether or not it’s true but if someone shows you physical evidence, in this case a photograph, then there’s simply no denying it.

The way in which the film presents its information, photographs, re-enactments, and data is just brilliant. The film will go from the generic “talking heads” style of documentary to representing what a certain interviewee is saying on screen; that may be photographs lined up next to each other (fading in and out, for example) or factual data swiveling in and out of the screen. It’s fairly hard to explain in words but let’s just say the director Errol Morris has done some impressive stuff with the way in which he represents certain things that sort of spices the documentary up a bit from the generic.

This isn’t the easiest of films to watch; even for a documentary it’s very heavy, and is quite – sometimes very – depressing indeed. If you’re not used to heavier documentaries then I definitely wouldn’t recommend this as your first. Try and ease yourself in with something lighter and/or comedic, like Bowling for Columbine for example.

The film makes a case for the US soldiers, although it’s the soldiers themselves as interviewees that do the arguing for the point, that they were “just following orders”. It isn’t at all one-sided, at least from my point of view, but rather presents the factual information clearly and concisely and allows the audience to make up its own mind. If anyone comes away from this film feeling anything less than shocked then they just haven’t paid attention.

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