So I’m filing this slightly tweaked piece on filmmaker Eugene Jarecki’s 2005 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Why We Fight as both a first-run film and DVD review, because the bulk of it was written for IGN, but never posted there. Go figure. To wit: Jarecki was initially inspired to make Why We Fight when, while making The Trials of Henry Kissinger, he stumbled across the farewell address of then-outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower. In the classic speech, Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, warned Americans of the dangers of what he called “the military industrial complex,” a term coined to describe the increasing power of abetting bureaucrats and unelected — and thus unaccountable — think tanks and corporations who peddle the big business of war.
Set against the backdrop of a tidal wave of voter dissatisfaction with the current quagmire that is the war in
Why We Fight delves headlong into the apparent realization of that prophecy (America now has a military budget greater than all other 18 members of NATO, and all other discretionary portions of our federal budget combined), and how that connects to and informs the American psyche at large. In assaying American wars dating back to the end of World War II, one finds that all too often there’s a tremendous gulf between what Americans initially think a particular war is about when it’s starting and happening, and what they gradually start to wonder about over time. In a disconnect between public policy debate and more privately held aims, the reasons we’re given for conflict are not necessarily in keeping with what’s been discussed and going on behind closed doors.
It sounds like a pretty damning indictment of the state of democracy, and in some ways it is. Unlike Michael Moore or Robert Greenwald’s films, though, Why We Fight tends to take a less overtly politicized bent. Statistics are meted out, and multiple personal narrative arcs interwoven. Front-line interview subjects range from William Kristol and Gore Vidal to John McCahin the Center for Public Integrity’s Charles Lewis; the opinion is substantive and broader, and the discourse deeper.
The involving result is as much an intellectual mystery — more whydunit than whodunit — as it is a sketch of
Housed in a regular, single-disc Amray case, Why We Fight comes with a robust slate of bonus material that highlights its paramount value as an educational title. The movie is presented on DVD in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which preserves the aspect ratio of its original, limited theatrical exhibition. The transfer is solid and free from any obvious digital artifacts. Color levels are crisp and bright, and Jarecki does a good job of integrating archived material with interview footage shot both indoors and outdoors, making for a streamlined viewing experience from a visual point-of-view. An English language Dolby digital 5.1 audio track anchors Why We Fight, and cleanly and clearly captures the movie’s dialogue and the like. As one might suspect, the aural demands of a doc like this are relatively low key, but a few scant passages focusing on military hardware showcase some of the film’s deeper register range. In addition to the aforementioned track, there are subtitles in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
While the film itself is a knockout, the DVD is driven by more than 100 minutes of special features, starting with a hearty collection of extended and deleted scenes. Most of these are extended interview bits, and no less interesting than some of the material that made the movie’s 100-minute cut.
The bottom line: Why We Fight is about the danger inherent in looking at and talking about all wars in the context of grand, ultimate-good-versus-ultimate-evil struggles, and the dangerous sort of carte blanche that creates. It raises big questions about big themes — the country’s core principles, as well as its massive commitments to such a standing army and attendant infrastructure — but distills them in such a precise and skillful fashion that the movie gets you thinking rather than only making you angry, irritated and frozen by rage. For an interview with Jarecki, click here. A- (Movie) A (Disc)
Jarecki was initially inspired to make Why We Fight when, while making The Trials of Henry Kissinger, he stumbled across the farewell address of then-outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower. In the classic speech, Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, warned Americans of the dangers of what he called “the military industrial complex,” a term coined to describe the increasing power of abetting bureaucrats and unelected — and thus unaccountable — think tanks and corporations who peddle the big business of war.