Can the voice of Budweiser All American Ale make an absorbing documentary about a family of G.I. Joes supporting the American military efforts overseas? Sort of. Reminiscent of the “Why We Fight” series of government produced propaganda films generated in support of the U.S. involvement in World War II – but without the stock footage – the debut feature of Jake Rademacher is definitely a patriotic tribute to the American soldier. Even if you’re against the American participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Brothers at War” will assure you that there are more than just a few good men and women fighting a first-rate fight on the battlelines overseas.
(Wait, you’re wondering about the beer comment? Before he became a director, Rademacher was a stage actor in Chicago, appeared in a small 2004 indie film [“Turning the Corner”], and narrated several television docs and commercials. His intonation is the spokesvoice for the Anheuser-Busch brew.)
The bonds of the Family Rademacher are strong, Midwestern, and patriotic to the core, as evidenced by Jake’s brothers Captain Isaac, a decorated West Point grad, and Sergeant Joe, a Ranger and Army sniper. Jake, in a desire to better understand their continued military commitment, decides to get himself embedded in the Iraqi war zone to tell his family’s story. Through four combat units he shows you some fairly interesting footage, as his brothers’ units see action on numerous fronts, including one quite scary machine-gun confrontation.
In a film told along a seemingly literal timeline, Rademacher tracks back and forth from Iraq to his extended family in the States (having relocated to Fort Braff in Fayetteville, North Carolina), capturing their reactions as a son or husband comes home for an all-too-brief respite from the heat and sand of the Middle East. In one instance a Rademacher boy/man might be supervising a secret scouting excursion on the Syrian border, while another returns home to a welcoming wife.
Rademacher’s spunk and determination in getting the project realized is quite interesting of itself, including a seven-day stretch to do pre-production and prepare for himself and two cameramen to film in the war zone. That effort was nearly undone with some abrupt insurance issues Rademacher discusses in the film. (He also serves as the film’s quirky narrator.) The film’s gestation is too much to cover here, but you can download the press notes from the film’s website for some fascinating insight into the filmmaking process. As an endnote to his lack of adequate groundwork, there is an amusing scene with the unprepared filmmaker being told his backpack is too big for the equivalent of the military overhead bin.
Yes, it’s a nicely done piece for such a personal story. Harrowing, heroic, and occasionally gripping. It’s also quite educational and yes, important in understanding the American warrior that has fought countless wars on our country’s behalf, including the 1.5 million American troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A good recruiting tool. No doubt the Army is happy about that.
Review written by Elias Savada.