Film notes on Dirty Wars
Dirty Wars is a 2013 American documentary film based on the book Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill. The film is directed by Richard Rowley based on a screenplay written by Scahill and David Riker.
The film was released in four theaters in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC on June 7, 2013. Over the opening weekend, it grossed an estimated $66,000, a theater average of $16,500.
Dirty Wars received critical acclaim. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes certified the film as “fresh” with a score of 84% based on 61 reviews. Metacritic rated the film 76 based on 18 reviews, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. Trevor Johnston found the film to be a “gripping investigative doc, which plays out like a classic conspiracy thriller as it follows a trail of clues to the heart of darkness behind President Obama’s good-guy facade. Scahill may not have the screen charisma of a Hollywood leading man, but he has the integrity to keep on pushing at closed doors even after threats are made to his personal security. He also widens his focus to include Yemen and Somalia and draws a pattern of state-sanctioned assassination by unchecked US special forces and their mercenary hirelings.“However, Douglas Valentine found “…the film is so devoid of historical context, and so contrived, as to render it a work of art, rather than political commentary. And as art, it is pure self-indulgence.“
Dirty Wars was nominated for a 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film won the 2013 Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing: Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue, ADR and Music in a Feature Documentary, given by the Motion Picture Sound Editors society.
“A secret informant who had served under JSOC leaders Stanley McCrystal and William McRaven and had a ringside seat on how it became the behemoth it now is and was aware of Scahill’s previous work exposing the mercenary company Blackwater came forward to give Scahill inside information about the activities of JSOC. Scahill identifies him in the book by the code name ‘Hunter’ and his voice is disguised in the film. In chapter 17 of the book, ‘Hunter’ said that he is a firm believer and supporter of the war on terror but felt that it was in serious danger of going too far. He describes the mindset of the people at the top as, “The world is a battlefield and we are at war. Therefore the military can go wherever they please and do whatever it is that they want to do, in order to achieve the national security objectives of whichever administration happens to be in power.” He also says “What we have essentially done is create one hell of a hammer and for the rest of our generation this force will be continuously searching for a nail.”
“It’s explosive subject matter that points fingers all the way up to POTUS himself in attempting to expose the secret actions of military branch JSOC (the Joint Special Operations Command), which Scahill characterises as President Obama’s own private paramilitary unit. Extending far beyond the geographical theatre of conflict, Dirty Wars follows the reporter from the employment of militia in Somalia, to missile strikes in Yemen. It’s this attack which strikes the most fear into Scahill’s heart; he already knows the astronomical scale of the hit list, but he soon discovers that American citizens are on it. “The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home,” said James Madison over 200 years ago – it’s chilling how keenly they echo through history.”