A review of ďGunner PalaceĒ by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for strong language and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes


The realities of the situation in Iraq are difficult to express in words, much less moving pictures.As one Iraqi-stationed soldier confesses to the camera, itís impossible to understand war if youíre not in it.

Agreed; thus Gunner Palace isnít as effective to the layperson as it could or should be.Filmmaker Michael Tucker, who lived with the 2/3 Field Artillery (ďThe GunnersĒ) at Uday Husseinís bombed-out Al Azimlya Palace (ďWe dropped a bomb on it and now we party in itĒ), attempts to capture the humanity and heartache of the lonesome soldier and manages in abrupt fits and starts.

We ask a lot of the young men and women who volunteer to defend our country come hell or high water. The Gunners live in a volatile area of Baghdad with one eye perpetually peeled for hidden explosive devices and ghostly insurgents.

Itís fascinating to watch the new American military regime weigh in on the travails of life in southwest Asia, their reflections ranging from thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom to meandering discourses on kitchen paraphernalia.Personal tragedy punctuates the action and provisional innocence is eclipsed by the grisly images of war.

A subtle detachment pervades Tuckerís reflective documentary and its surreal surroundings, diminishing its potentially riveting impact. Iíd like to bleed compassion for a wet-behind-the-ears yahoo drunk on the power of his automatic weapon and looking to waste someone for the sport of it, but I canít. Watching teams with playful names like Tombraiders roughing up blacklisted Iraqi civilians offends my time-honored concept of cultural synchronicity and Iím reminded of the yawning chasm between reality and newsreel fantasy.

This particular tour of duty includes poets, rappers, juveniles and men, all with the ambiguous (or over-zealous) goal of ostensibly putting an end to terrorism. Gunner renders the experience as powerful as raining artillery and as listless as a weekend bash at a bombed-out pleasure palace.