Boys of Abu Ghraib
Boys of Abu Ghraib is a military thriller from first time director, writer and star of this Iraqi-set film, Luke Moran. It’s based on a true story and set in 2003 when the scandal of the tortures in the infamous prison came to light. Moran plays Jack Farmer, a soldier sent to Iraq to work in the motor pool, and to get a break from the monotony signs on for extra duty to help the MP’s who are extremely short staffed. With no training whatsoever, other than a quick walkthrough from Staff Sargent Tanner (Sean Astin), Jack is put in charge of one of the prison wings which he’s told contains the worst and most dangerous prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Jack is warned not to talk to the prisoners other than to issue orders, but he secretly befriends Ghazi Hammoud (Omid Abtahi, Argo, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), who was imprisoned after a bomb went off killing 18 civilians. Ghazi tells Jack he’s innocent and Jack begins to believe him.
When we see the squad arrive at Abu Ghraib, we learn their living accommodations aren’t much different to the prisoners. Because the prison is frequently under bombardment from mortar fire, the soldiers no longer camp outside and are instead in unused cells. The CO gives a grand speech, telling them they’re making a difference being on the front line, but they soon learn his words are hollow. They have no TV or phones, and to keep themselves occupied when not working they stage boxing matches and scorpion fights, but these things only alleviate the boredom for so long. To make matters worse, the planned 6-month tour is extended to 12-months, which does nothing for morale.
Boys of Abu Ghraib is a surprisingly sure film for a first time effort and even when things slow down, it never becomes tedious. The pacing was just about right, although, I felt we could have taken the running time down from 102-minutes to 90-minutes. The relationship between Jack and Ghazi isn’t taken to any depth, but I like the way Moran handled it, however, I’m in no doubt a lot of flack will be drawn for the direction the film finally takes, but, my only interest is in Boys of Abu Ghraib‘s entertainment value.
We don’t get much of a sense of any of the characters, with the exception of Jack, who’s seen as a sensitive young man, disliking the treatment of the prisoners. Ghazi is a new prisoner, brought in the day after Jack begins working in the prison, and not long after he and Jack begin their talks we watch as Ghazi is taken away for questioning and then returned semi-conscious and beaten. Jack is distressed at the state Ghazi is in and decides to fight in a boxing match with a soldier much heavier than himself, where he takes a beating. Sean Astin’s character is one I’d have liked to have seen a bit more of, but like the others we meet, we barely scratch the surface.
Even with its faults I found myself entertained by Boys of Abu Ghraib, but I realise a lot of people will be looking for something deeper; something that invokes questions about the treatment of the prisoners of Abu Ghraib, but, this film simply doesn’t do that. It’s a piece of mild historical entertainment to keep your average cinema goer happy but for anyone looking to understand what happened in Abu Ghraib, you’ll be left wanting.