Caught this documentary last night, thought I'd give a short write up since I saw nothing else about it here.
You can find the trailer, which is a good representation of the film, here:
The film is a straightforward news-recap type documentary, which mainly consists of interviews with ORHA/CPA officials and others within the Bush administration or recruited by the administration to run Iraq's reconstruction. Among the handful of officials are Richard Armitage, Gen. Jay Garner, Lawrence Wilkerson, and Paul Pillar. The film itself essentially chronicles the nonexistent post-war planning and disastrous execution that has been covered in scores of media accounts over the last many years, and in the many books out over the last few years as well. It deals almost exclusively with this aspect of the Iraq war, there are one or two small sequences at the beginning of the film that mention as an aside the arguably far more controversial issues of pre-war intelligence and the like but beyond that this film is squarely a documentary that concerns itself with post-invasion Iraq and the decent into "chaos."
The narrative of the film is straightforward and simply but effectively done as far as these kinds of documentaries go. It's reminiscent of a good Frontline documentary, though perhaps without quite as much wide reliance on outside reporting, and greater reliance on interviews and a simpler and slightly narrower focus. For people who read a daily newspaper of record and have followed the war closely, or for those who have read any of the books about post-invasion Iraq and the planning for after the invasion, the movie is really nothing new and only serves as a re-hash of what is already widely known, however it does sort of package everything into one simple and neat (damning) narrative.
My criticisms are mainly from an informational perspective, and not so much as a film, and so are not so appropriate to discuss. However, I do understand why the film narrows its focus around those being interviewed, their tasks and experiences, and the three main points that the film traces as key errors (1-allowing the looting of Baghdad to proceed unabated, 2- de-baathification, 3-disbanding the Iraqi army). There are many stories and characters around these issues that are fascinating to trace as well, and somewhat little attention is given to rebuilding efforts and how they have faltered or failed. People like Bernie Kerik are mentioned by interviewees, but not discussed in the film. The film provides, overall, an accurate representation of what has gone on, however it does it in large part with very quick examples of, anecdotes, and mentions of some problems such as the politicization of Iraq's reconstruction etc, but does not really delve into factual reporting of these issues in much depth. All this is, understandably, to keep the film's length reasonable, or it could easily balloon into a many-hour-long Ken Burns type film chronicling much of what has been written. In addition, it is worth noting that it is largely focused on policy-makers, and the soldiers interviewed (just a couple) were mainly to get a glimpse on how those policies affected the soldiers and how they were carried out. It is not a film that really concerns itself with what the military was actually doing except in the most general sense(not controlling looting, looking for insurgents door to door, etc). This shortsight may or may not be a fair criticism of the film, but it does intend to focus more on the post-war planning and execution rather than following the soldiers. It is a film that gives little more than a cursory coverage(mainly as broad narrative) of the military experience. I think given the focus of the film that this is fair, however it is worth mentioning.
What we're left with is a well done, if straightforward re-hash of what has been widely written about already. However, understanding that not everyone has the time to read a major newspaper every day, or has read any of the books about Iraq, it certainly is a film well worth-viewing. For those who have followed the war closely, there is nothing particularly fresh in the film, but it remains a well done documentary nonetheless. As for the film's politics, one can say with certainty that the film clearly portrays Iraq post-invasion as a descent into disastrous chaos, however pre-war issues(for the most part) and current forward-lookin questions are not directly addressed. It by no means portrays Iraq as a successful project as some staunch war supporters do(with great myopia), however it can also be read as a pro-stay in Iraq and finish the job film, as I think a larger number of people may reasonably feel. The two soldiers who were in the film express a strong desire at the end (and with great poignancy) to have their sacrifices mean something. In this sense the film exists in the conflicted space we see today, in portraying a war that has in essence been lost steadily over the last several years through unbelievable administration incompetence, but one that exists as a serious problem that cannot simply be undone. In other words, the film gives little real cover to those who advocate immediate withdrawal, or to those who advocate a stay-the-course strategy.
I give it a B+, but certainly recommend it as a news-documentary. From a film-making perspective or an entertainment perspective there is nothing much to remark about. Compared to a documentary like Sicko for instance, this one is far far less entertaining, and is not the kind of clear advocacy of Moore's style of filmmaking in Sicko, thus remains significanly more substantive as a documentation of a portion of Iraq war history. On the other hand, compared to a documentary like Iraq in Fragments, this film has very little repeat-viewing value at all, and is completely focused on the actions and motivations of Americans post-invasion. Iraq in Fragments, a documentary I have mentioned before, is perhaps the most striking film of the last several years (now on DVD), and provides an incredibly unique poetic glimpse into Iraq. These three films mentioned here are all documentaries, but each occuppies a radically different location as a type of film. As an appreciator of film, I can't help but hold Iraq in Fragments as by far the best documentary film I have perhaps ever seen, however it is not a historical or news documentary in the way that this film is. As a person who appreciates being informed about the world, No End In Sight is quite valuable, but primarily as a historical/news piece and not so much as a film unto itself, unlike something like Iraq in Fragments(a masterpiece that I highly highly recommend).
I don't think the film carries a rating, however it does contain footage of IED explosions, news footage of the aftermath of car bombs, some iraqi corpses, wounded persons, the Blackwater guys who were dragged through Fallujah, and some particularly disturbing home-video footage of private security contractors. I wouldn't take small children to see this film, perhaps not simply because there is some violence, but they'd probably just be bored. I would hope that young people would be informed enough to view this kind of film, and despite the violence, it isn't any different than what's on the news or in the newspapers, so certainly would not discourage young people from seeing this film.
Video and audio was straightforward, some news footage that looked lackluster of course, but most was actually filmed on film and looked quite good. Since it's mostly talking heads and narration, audio was unremarkable, with simple but effective music appropriate for the film.