Saturday, February 10, 2007


"Former military blogger Colby Buzzell's high-octane tale of a street shootout is accompanied by still-frame, comic-book-style animation, while Marine Lt. Col. Mike Strobl's simple story about escorting a dead Marine's remains back to his Wyoming hometown is set against peaceful, unpopulated footage of the locations, ending with the dead soldier's grave. On the evidence, I'd guess that Buzzell is a war critic and Strobl is a gung-ho patriot, but I can't be quite sure and it doesn't much matter. Hearing their stories in their own words -- something few of us, pro- or antiwar, bother to do -- is the entire point. (The material is read aloud by various actors, including Beau Bridges, Robert Duvall, Aaron Eckhart and Blair Underwood.)"

"Several cinematic techniques are employed to realize these tales beyond straight-ahead re-creations. The most distinctive is “Men in Black” by Colby Buzzell, which utilizes a kind of animatic process to present a harrowing street fight, with animated bullets and spent cartridges flying out of the weapons of still illustrations. It's the most vulgar of the lot, with plenty of profanity to heighten the intensity. Most distressing, though, is that after he returned home, he stopped telling people he was in Iraq, because they didn't seem all that interested."
-the Trade, OR

"One of the best segments, a stark comic-style animation that accompanies Colby Buzzell's piece, "Men in Black," actually adds to the experience of the reading. Actually, an entire documentary about Buzzell, who wrote a popular anonymous blog from the frontlines before his commanding officers found out about it, would have been interesting. "

from The Onion - A.V. Club Review:

The stories and poems comprising the simple, artful documentary Operation Homecoming were assembled as part of a National Endowment Of The Arts program to collect the writings of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just hearing their words read aloud has a bracing effect, mainly because those voices are rarely heard over the din of political stump speeches or the gasbags on talk radio or cable news networks. The question is, what makes this a movie? Wouldn't a well-edited anthology of these pieces paint all the necessarily vivid pictures on their own? Remarkably, director Richard E. Robbins appears to have taken such doubts to heart, because each of the 11 passages featured in the film attempts a different stylistic approach, and not one could be labeled a typical staged reenactment. Though it doesn't quite stretch to the artistic lengths of Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, Operation Homecoming provides enough visual support to bring these writings to life.

Pushed through by a voice cast of celebrity narrators—Robert Duvall, Beau Bridges, Josh Lucas, Aaron Eckhart, and Blair Underwood, among others—the featured selections cover a range of styles (short stories, poems, letters, et al.) and experiences, from ground-level skirmishes to MedEvac airlifts to escorting bodies back home. There's even a bleakly comic sequence about the excruciating grind of life in the tents, with the same bad breakfast every day, the desert sand embedded in every pore, and latrines so foul that the author felt like immolating himself to get the filth off his body. Offering support for the soldiers' testimonials are author-veterans from other wars, such as Tobias Wolff, Tim O'Brien, Anthony Swofford, and John Salter; no matter the specific conflict and no matter their political persuasion, their feelings about warfare are harmonious.

Some passages are more effective than others, and none is better than the one from army specialist Colby Buzzell, who discusses manning a Bradley vehicle through an ambush in Mosul; Robbins tells his tale through a series of comic-book-like graphic sketches. Another beautiful sequence follows a Marine officer who accompanies the body of a fallen private back to his Montana hometown for burial. Robbins' cameras follow in his footsteps, but rather than recreating the event, they move through the empty spaces of the town, the soldiers' school, and the cemetery like ghosts, with no living thing entering the frame. There are a couple of duds, like a hummingbird-fast photo montage to honor the dead, but the cumulative effect of Operation Homecoming is to bring to light the soldiers' collective experiences and the enduring nightmares they suffer in our place.

A.V. Club Rating: B+

Movie synopsis:

OPERATION HOMECOMING is a unique documentary that explores the firsthand accounts of American soldiers through their own words. The film is built upon a project created by the National Endowment for the Arts to gather the writing of soldiers and their families who have participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Through interviews and dramatic readings, the film transforms selections from this collection of writing into a deep examination of the experiences of the men and women who are serving in America's armed forces. At the same time it provides depth and context to these experiences through a broader look at the universal themes of war literature.

The writing in OPERATION HOMECOMING covers the full spectrum — poetry, fiction, memoir, letters, journals and essays. The stories recounted here are sad, funny, violent and uplifting. Yet each one displays an honesty and intensity that is rarely seen in explorations of the war. Through an extraordinary group of men and women it presents a profound window into the human side of America's current conflicts.

At the core of the writing in OPERATION HOMECOMING is a deep desire by all those who have served in war to come to terms with their experiences. Throughout the film the soldiers, young and old, express a profound hope that people will listen to their stories and try to understand what they have seen.

More info about "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience" :