Sundance Journal: ‘Dirty Wars’

Rick Rowley’s ‘Dity Wars’ was the best documentary I saw at Sundance this year. I wish that I would’ve seen more, but this one is an on-point condemnation of the abuse of military powers. The movie follows investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill as he uncovers startling information about America’s covert wars.

Scahill was the journalist who unearthed the despicable deeds of Blackwater. Here, he sets his sights on the American military and wonders if it hasn’t been abusing its immense power.

This will surely be a tough movie for some to watch. It doesn’t waver in its message, which is to point out the hundreds of times where American forces have killed innocent people in night raids and tried to cover it up.

The most impressive aspect of ‘Dirty Wars’ is that it never wanders off on tangents. It has a laser-like focus and moves forward with purpose. Scahill narrates the movie as we follow him to distant villages in the Middle East. These villages are considered extremely unsafe for American journalists. Still, Scahill’s journalistic instincts tell him that there’s a story there.

The information that Scahill uncovers is staggering. The investigation starts in a small place called Gardaz and balloons to dozens of countries and thousands of targets. A secret government organization, known as Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC, which was made famous after the killing of Osama bin Laden), has been given immense power to carry out as many raids as its wants. Its kill list grows exponentially as it finds more and more people to target with attacks.

Scahill’s adventure and research feel like they’re ripped straight from a spy movie. As he exhumes more and more information about these night raids, he becomes increasingly afraid for his own safety. His sources will only speak to him if silhouetted and their voices digitally altered. It’s obvious, when he starts getting threats, that he’s hit an exposed nerve.

I found myself riveted by the way this documentary is put together. Another doc up here at Sundance called ‘Manhunt’ dealt with the same kind of black ops material, but somehow made it sound boring and mundane. ‘Dirty Wars’ is a feverish attempt to find the truth, and a terrific example of brave journalism.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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