Standard Operating ProcedureDirector: Errol Morris
Filmmaker Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line) takes an unflinching look at the Abu Ghraib prison scandal while meditating on the frightening side effects of the War on Terror in a thought-provoking documentary from Participant Productions (An Inconvenient Truth).
All Movie Guide - Jason BuchananErrol Morris knows well the power of pictures, and in his documentary Standard Operating Procedure, he uses the now-notorious photographs taken at the U.S.-run Abu Ghriab prison as a launching point to examine the horrendous and shocking events that unfolded there, imploring viewers to ask themselves whether those controversial images can be counted on as any representation of any absolute truth. The answer, it would seem, isn't as simple as black and white, as Morris speaks with the very people vilified in these photographs to try and understand if the transgressions committed at Abu Ghriab were the simple results of inexperienced young soldiers becoming drunk with power, or something indicative of a larger, more malevolent government conspiracy. The resulting film skillfully draws the viewer in, as interviews with the guards and military policemen -- including the oft-maligned Lynndie England -- combine with authentic photographs and stylized reenactments to drive home the point that there may be more to these deplorable images than outer appearances suggest. Take, for example, the image of England holding on to a leash secured around the neck of a naked Iraqi detainee. On the surface, such a photograph may suggest that England was just getting some sick kicks while a fellow officer snapped a few "playful" pics. A closer examination of the original, uncropped photo, however, reveals another female officer in the frame, opening up a whole new series of possibilities. Combine this new detail with the fact that the soldier standing beside England was the girlfriend of the soldier taking the pictures, and we finally begin to comprehend how little we really knew based on the cropped photograph that was ultimately released to the press. Standard Operating Procedure brings up a number of complex questions regarding accountability, responsibility, and human rights. It forces viewers to ask themselves how they would have responded in some especially tense situations, and reveals how even soldiers with the best of intentions can suddenly find themselves in hot water with Uncle Sam after making what they believe to be the "right" choices. What is "standard operating procedure" in a war where all of the rules have changed, and how does one make that judgment call when challenged? While some of Morris' aesthetic and stylistic decisions may become a bit distracting as the film's running time wears on (his decision to constantly drop to black during pauses in interviews becomes somewhat disorienting, for example), the responses that he gets out of his interviewees force viewers to challenge their interpretations of reality and look for answers in places that they may otherwise never suspect -- and in helping his viewers to develop that important skill, Morris gives us the essential tools needed to become more critical of the information we receive from our government and the media. That's a pretty valuable skill to have, especially in times of war.
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- Original Release:
- Sony Pictures
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Cast & Crew
|General Janis Karpinski||Participant|
|Julie Bilson Ahlberg||Producer|
|Steve Bores||Sound/Sound Designer|
|Marina Draghici||Costumes/Costume Designer|
|Danny Elfman||Score Composer|
|Robert Fernandez||Executive Producer|
|G.John Garrett||Sound/Sound Designer|
|John Garrett||Sound/Sound Designer|
|Albee Gordon||Sound/Sound Designer|
|Steve Hardie||Production Designer|
|Martin Levin||Executive Producer|
|Julia Sheehan||Executive Producer|
|Charles Silver||Executive Producer|
|Jeff Skoll||Executive Producer|
|Julian Wall||Asst. Director|
|Diane Weyermann||Executive Producer|
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Standard Operating Procedure based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
As is obvious in the complex responses to both the book and the film by Errol Morris and Philip Gourevitch, STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE places in our faces some facts we would rather shield than discuss. The story of the period of between September 2003 and February 2004 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq is so well known not only from the news media but also from the Internet blogging sites that it need not be outlined in a review of this film. The facts documented by photographs taken by those who participated and observed the inhuman treatment of prisoners are indisputable: seeing them on the screen in full frame and in close-up shots is almost more than the compassionate eye can tolerate. But there it is and yes, we do need to witness the abuse and humiliation that describes the US prisoner treatment in Iraq, no matter who is to blame - enlisted personnel, MI, high ranking military officials, the White House. The fact that it occurred as such a gross abuse of human rights should awaken in all of us a more complete awareness that war makes humans do such things. It is ugly to watch, difficult to digest, and extremely trying on our set of beliefs that man's inhumanity to man has and does exist despite our need to believe otherwise.
Given the atrocities documented by this film, the style of the film as a work of cinema deserves to be addressed also. The flow of the documentary with the interplay of interview pieces by those infamous young people upon whose shoulders the blame was placed in what appears to be a diversionary technique to avoid deeper probing of the true guilt, along with the images of the prison itself - stark lines of cellblocks and living conditions so foul they seem to actually smell on the screen - is well conceived and beautifully/creatively captured by cinematographers Robert Chappell and Robert Richardson and enhanced by a strangely appropriate musical scoring by Danny Elfman. The film may be about things ugly, but the technique used to tell the story is high quality art.
Abu Ghraib, along with Guantanamo, will always be a scar on the conscience of America, even beyond the time that this ugly Iraq war is over. We should all look at this film with the hope that with seeing actual footage of a nightmare may help prevent recurrences in the future. Grady Harp