We woke up Monday morning to a pretty big surprise: the funniest-naked-breakup-scene movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall did not take top box office honors last weekend. That spot went to The Forbidden Kingdom (Tag line: “The path is unsafe. The place is unknown. The journey is unbelievable.” Read: boy movie), which features Jet Li and Jackie Chan co-starring for the first time. Kung fu kicked Apatow ass! This weekend brings a couple other yuckfests—Baby Mama, the of-the-moment Tina Fey-Amy Poehler surrogate mom comedy and, for the lava-lamp lovers, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. But how can we laugh when another movie gives us so much to cry about?
Errol Morris’s latest, Standard Operating Procedure, quite frankly freaked us out. The documentary is an in-depth investigation into those infamous 2003 photographs that depicted American soldiers abusing and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. In past films like The Thin Blue Line (about the 1976 murder of a Dallas policeman, and which resulted in helping get a man off death row) and The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, Mr. Morris has shown a great capacity for detailed and surprising research, and a compellingly simple, equitable and unblinking approach to filming his subjects. This time around, the filmmaker was able to coax into telling their sides of the story most of the soldiers featured in the photographs, including the much-loathed Lynndie England—of leash-holding, thumbs-up fame (who, interestingly, was caught up in a romantic triangle within the prison; “I was blinded by being in love with a man,” she bitterly eye-rolls)—as well as investigators and witnesses.
It’s the context of what happened outside the pictures that clearly interests Mr. Morris—and just think, what if the images we saw weren’t the worst of it? As Mr. Morris deftly illustrates (and considering the subject matter, rather beautifully), there’s something even more terrifying than the fact that these young kids—going stir-crazy and scared out of their own minds in a war zone—were left to abuse and torture without supervision: They might have been merely a link in the chain of command of a corrupt and power-hungry post-9/11 U.S. military. By the end of this deeply unsettling film, you’ll realize you have more questions than answers about what really happened at Abu Ghraib. Mr. Morris himself describes Standard Operating Procedure as a “nonfiction horror movie.” We couldn’t agree more.
Standard Operating Procedure opens Friday at the Angelika Film Center.