With an accountant's eye for precision and a political scientist's grasp of the machinations that move national policy, Charles Ferguson's "No End in Sight" itemizes the errors, misjudgments and follies that have defined the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq.

With an accountant’s eye for precision and a political scientist’s grasp of the machinations that move national policy, Charles Ferguson’s “No End in Sight” itemizes the errors, misjudgments and follies that have defined the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. In his first doc, Ferguson delivers the calm, meticulous survey of U.S. policy that legions of critics of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11″ have been waiting for. By no means definitive or comprehensive, the pic nevertheless contains plenty of information within a conventional running time and will raise auds’ hackles — pointing to powerful B.O. biz for a current affairs doc.

An expert on information technology, a visiting scholar at M.I.T. and UC-Berkeley as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, Ferguson boasts unusually deep bona fides for a filmmaker. With the sure assistance of editors Chad Beck and Cindy Lee, the daunting roster of talking heads is molded into an immediate film-watching experience.

The introduction reflects widespread news reports: That the situation on the ground in Iraq reached unprecedented levels of chaos and death in 2006, with even grislier trends in every direction. Fortunately, this rather needless prologue is brief, leading to a good examination of historical and political factors that precipitated the 2003 invasion.

The first sign that the Bush White House intended war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq came immediately after the attacks of 9/11, when former senior Iraq analyst Marc Garlasco and the rest of his Defense Intelligence Agency team received orders to confirm links between Al-Qaeda and Hussein’s Ba’athist regime. That none could be found proved irrelevant to the war’s political movers.

Ferguson pointedly identifies which key White House figures declined to be interviewed (Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, among others) but the most grievously missing voice is Paul Wolfowitz, who was the key architect of the invasion and has managed to avoid being grilled by any journalist or documentarian on the subject of his assumptions about Iraq.

After a sharp and brief summary of U.S. relations with Iraq from the bitter 1980s war with Iran, in which the U.S. sided with Saddam, on through the Gulf War and a decade of internationally imposed sanctions, the stage is set for the 2003 invasion carried out by many of the men involved with former president George H.W. Bush’s administration.

What fundamentally concerns Ferguson is how the Bush Administration, which had concentrated command and control and the invasion’s aftermath with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, had made little to no preparation for the post-Saddam period. Although much of this is reported in such books as Thomas Rick’s “Fiasco,” the film’s condensed version will prove invaluable to the public’s understanding of what went wrong.

Ambassador Barbara Bodine, initially in charge of Baghdad for the U.S. occupation, offers concrete examples of the operation’s incompetence by noting such shortcomings as offices in the war zone that lacked phones for weeks. U.S. adviser to Iraq’s interior ministry Gerald Burke cites the looting period following the fall of Hussein, and the lack of U.S. troops to prevent it as the time “when we lost a lot of Iraqis.”

Even well-informed auds will find their jaws dropping, and a sharply edited exchange between Col. Paul Hughes, director of the occupation’s strategic policy, and Washington-based senior adviser Walter Slocombe, exemplifies the disastrous effects of occupation czar L. Paul Bremer’s decisions to eliminate all Ba’ath party members (mostly Sunni) from the government and to disband the Iraqi army. Near-consensus has formed that these moves helped create the mood of Sunni resentment and a giant pool of unemployed men required for the well-organized armed insurgency that began in 2004.

The presence of former troops and the pic’s specific avoidance of critiquing political ideology as the root cause of the unrealistic war plan appear meant to avoid alienating right-of-center auds. Talking heads are shot in a variety of modes and styles, and interviews emphasize those who were in-country over those safely tucked inside the Beltway.

No End in Sight

Production

A Representation Pictures presentation. Produced by Charles Ferguson, Jennie Amias, Jessie Vogelson. Executive producer, Alex Gibney. Directed, written by Charles Ferguson.

Crew

Camera (color, HD video), Antonio Rossi; editors, Chad Beck, Cindy Lee; music, Peter Nashel; music supervisor, Tracy McKnight; sound, David Hocs; supervising sound editor, James Redding III; Iraqi correspondents, Nir Rosen, Warzer Jaff, Omar S.; researcher, Christopher Murphy; associate producers, Audrey Marrs, E. Mary Walsh. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Independent Documentary Competition), Jan. 22, 2007. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Barbara Bodine, Chris Allbritton, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Col. Paul Hughes, Walter Slocombe, Seth Moulton, David Yancey, Gen. Jay Garner, George Packer, Gerald Burke, Hugo Gonzalez, Samantha Power, James Fallows, Linda Bilmes, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Marc Garlasco, Matt Sherman, Nir Rosen, Paul Pillar, Ray Jennings, Richard Armitage, Robert Hutchings, Yaroslav Trofimov.
Narrator: Campbell Scott. (English, Arabic dialogue)

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