I trudged over to my DVD collection, thinking I've seen everything I owned - and then I found The War Tapes. I ordered this documentary before it came out and received a copy in the mail quite along time ago. The premise is shockingly simple- throw some video cameras at National Guard troops about to be deployed to Iraq, let them hold onto them for a year, and then put together a documentary afterward using only that footage (as well as some extra interview footage of family members shot by the actual filmmakers).
It was tough to watch, honestly. As a civilian, my best impression of what war might really be like comes from movies like Saving Private Ryan and Glory, where gore and pain and death abound - but it's still not real. Nothing looks like real death until you see it - and this documentary has some footage of very real, very dead people that I was NOT ready to see. There are also firefights that look so chaotic and confusing I can't believe people are able to survive. These things alone made it tough to watch - but the extremely compelling narrative of following these guys through their year in Iraq kept me watching.
There was a minimum of political judgment - and what there was went in both directions. This documentary practically insists that you draw your own conclusions about what you watched... and that's rare in documentaries, especially around such an emotionally charged subject. The film certainly added more chaos to my already conflicted thoughts on the current Iraqi situation.
This was an extremely compelling film, one which I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone. People should understand what war is - what the cost is, what it really looks like... and this documentary helps that understanding along quickly.