"Full Battle Rattle" follows the training regimen of one battalion during engagement and occupation in one of 13 fake "villages."

A so-so pic on an incendiary subject, “Full Battle Rattle” follows the training regimen of one battalion during engagement and occupation in one of 13 fake “villages” comprising a massive Iraq simulation somewhere in the Mojave Desert. Startling subject matter will propel the item to numerous fest slots with attendant pro-and-con debate, though pic feels more like tube and DVD material.

Fictitious burg of Medina Wasl is part of the National Training Center at California’s Ft. Irwin Military Reservation, the last stop for soldiers on their way to Iraq. Referred to by someone as “one big TV reality show,” the complex employs 1,600 hired role players, of which 250 are native Iraqis, many of whom live in on site during the exercises. They’re given names, ID numbers, positions, even backstories, and coached to never break character during operations.

During this particular three-week period, gung-ho Lt. Col. Robert McLaughlin leads his green troops against some pesky Iraqi insurgents, played by returning U.S. servicemen who look like they’re having a ball raising hell.

Nine scripted stages of skirmish, ranging from “occupation” to “endgame” and “withdrawal,” are punctuated by profiles of the native Iraqis. From the “deputy mayor” with higher political ambitions to the “assistant police chief” forced to take time off to fight U.S. immigration in the real world, their stories are as earnest as they are improbable.

Players’ every move is plotted by a group of simulation architects who sit around the conference table throwing scenarios at one another. Most surreal moment finds one Iraqi villager cheerfully recounting how grateful her mother back home is that her daughter’s able to wear traditional garb on a day-to-day basis — and how happy she is to be able to send her wages back to support mom in Baghdad.

What prevents the pic from soaring to the level of expose, ironically, is that helmers Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss come across as perhaps too nonjudgmental. Though impartiality is to be applauded in the docu form, auds predisposed to shock at the absurdist nature of the proceedings will chafe that neither Gerber nor Moss ever interject to ask just what the hell’s going on. Supporters, on the other hand, may be distressed to learn McLaughlin’s battle is an uphill one.

Tech package is adequate, the snazzy interstitial graphics offset by Paul Brill’s heavyhanded score. Subtle recycling of some footage as the story progresses suggests structural and/or coverage challenges. Burl Ives’ “Cowboy’s Lament” offers a tart music bed for closing credits, as well as a glimpse of the tonal road not taken.

Full Battle Rattle


A Market Road Films, Mile End Films production, in association with Pop's Paper Route, Tapwater Media. (International sales: Films Transit, Montreal.) Produced by Tony Gerber, Jesse Moss. Executive producers, Britton Fisher, Pascal Demko. Co-producer, Tamas Bojtor. Directed by Tony Gerber, Jesse Moss.


Camera (color, HD), Gerber, Moss, Adam Keker; editors, Alex Hall, Pax Wasserman, Youna Kwak; music, Paul Brill; sound (Dolby Digital), Patrick Cicero; associate producer, Natalie Chavoya. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama: Documentaries), Feb. 10, 2008. (Also in SXSW Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.


Robert McLaughlin, Cam Kramer, Amber Gates, Nagi Moshi, Azhar Cholagh, Sherine Halim. (English, Arabic dialogue)

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