Full Battle Rattle




BERLIN -- Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss' documentary "Full Battle Rattle" opens with a startling scene. A gunbattle rages in Iraq between U.S. forces and insurgents, with nasty looking casualties on both sides. Abruptly, everything stops. A few soldiers wander off to grab food, the dead get to their feet, and one soldier tells a body, "Be comfortable at least when you are dead."

No, it's not a movie set but a military training ground deep in California's hot and barren Mojave Desert. Before deployment to Iraq, Army units spend three weeks training here in conditions that simulate those in the Iraq theater. Mannequins are designed to replicate grievous wounds, and U.S.-based Iraqis play townspeople and insurgents.

It's all a bit bizarre. One soldier tellingly calls it "one big reality TV show," and the movie never makes clear whether such training does any good. Indeed, the movie scrupulously avoids making judgments. About all that the makers get onscreen is a war game where nothing real is at stake. Consequently, "Full Battle Rattle" has little hope for theatrical exposure outside of festival dates.

The Iraqi "roles" and staged incidents are all scripted. The most interesting thing here is that the scriptwriters foresee nothing but mission failure. The soldiers fail to crush an uprising in this fictional village. Sectarian violence breaks out, and even the mayor gets assassinated.

The personal lives of the Iraqi actors are more compelling than their roles. The town's cop is fighting INS deportation. A village girl is studying hard for her citizenship papers. Her friend worries to death about her family back in Iraq.

The grunts reveal little about themselves other than the fact that none is thrilled about his impending deployment. No wonder: The Army even stages a mock memorial service for fallen comrades. Get used to death, boys.

The movie never produces a moment where this fake war comes to reflect or symbolize the reality of a disastrous war. The film, like the GIs, is strangely passive.

War games are hardly new. All that is singular about this one is the length to which the U.S. military has gone to create a virtual Iraq.

Market Road Films/Mile End Films
Directors-producers: Tony Gerber, Jesse Moss
Executive producers: Britton Fisher, Pascal Demko
Directors of photography: Tony Gerber, Jesse Moss, Adam Keker
Music: Paul Brill
Editors: Alex Hall, Pax Wasserman, Yuona Kwak

Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating