It’s the age of sanitized media, where coverage of current events is heavily diluted by “pool” restrictions and censored by the government for content that might disturb our tender sensibilities. And nowhere is this truer than in the depiction of war, apparently because we’re not mature enough as a society to be confronted with the non-Bruckheimer reality.
Given that, Steve Metze’s “Year at Danger” is an extraordinary achievement. Metze is a West Point grad and former Army veteran of Desert Storm and the Bosnia campaign. Currently a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard (though he was still a major during filming), Metze was shipped to Iraq again in 2005, nine days after getting married and with a baby on the way. A film school graduate, he began filming the goings-on at Forward Operation Base “Danger” in Tikrit where his battalion was stationed.
The resulting documentary is truly remarkable. It’s a thoroughly unvarnished account of a soldier’s life in Iraq, from the excruciating boredom of day-to-day military existence to the tense aftermath of dozens of mortar and rocket attacks. We get to know the men of Metze’s unit intimately, and go through their ups and downs in dealing with military bureaucracy, being separated from their families, and surviving constant attacks by suicide bombers.
In fact, the movie reveals so much happening behind the scenes, including an actual assassination attempt on a commanding officer by a U.S. soldier, that I found myself wondering how the hell Metze and co-director Don Swaynos got away with it. Metze’s comrades speak with perfect candor, apparently without any fear of sanction by their superiors, and are so frank about their experiences one gets the impression they didn’t expect anyone but Metze and his family to watch it.
Two scenes in particular are especially moving. The first is Metze’s interview with a fellow soldier/blogger who relates the story of his squad accidentally killing a three-year old Iraqi boy. The second is Metze surprising his wife with a surprise return home following the birth of their daughter. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater, and that includes your sap of a reviewer.
There’s no editorializing, no debating the merits of our involvement in Iraq, and no hand-wringing. Metze, a bit of a dork in real life, makes his matter-of-fact presentation and gives the audience a rare look inside our military. “Year at Danger” is not to be missed.