Later this year, director Clint Eastwood will be offering flipped views of 1945's Battle Of Iwo Jima—the U.S.-focused Flags Of Our Fathers and the Japanese-focused Red Sun, Black Sand—but movie buffs don't need to wait until then to see combat from two sides. Right now, they can choose between the documentary The War Tapes, which follows three American soldiers through a year of deployment in Iraq, and The Blood Of My Brother, which follows an Iraqi family as they recover from the shooting death of their breadwinner. Just don't watch one right after the other, because the latter is dimmed somewhat by the shadow of the former.
The Blood Of My Brother mainly suffers from a lack of focus. Director Andrew Berends gives over about a fourth of a fairly short movie to field footage and interviews with American soldiers, and the abbreviated look at the U.S. military makes it look more doltish and insensitive than the conflicted figures in The War Tapes. At the same time, the story at the center of the movie—about the death of a photographer and part-time mosque guard named Ra'ad, and the struggle of his younger brother Ibrahim over whether to take over his family's photography studio or take up arms alongside the insurgents—never really comes to fruition. There's a lot of mourning, and a few indicators that Ibrahim is too immature to be the head of a household. But mostly, Berends puts viewers inside Ibrahim's head by showing horrifying images of wounded Iraqis in local hospitals. The message is clear, if overly simple: Young men surrounded by death and deprived of honest work are bound to turn to violence.
The most daring parts of The Blood Of My Brother show militant Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr rallying the masses with fiery anti-American rhetoric, and show actual combat footage from the perspective of Iraqi civilians and combatants. Berends' camera ducks behind barricades along with the Iraqis, as they fire rifles at passing tanks and try to bring down a patrolling helicopter. Then he catches the jubilation in the street when someone finds a chunk of what might be a chopper blade. It's an uneasy feeling to spend time with people who cheer every American death, and call each Iraqi killed by Americans a martyr, no matter what they were doing at the time. Whatever The Blood Of My Brother's journalistic weaknesses, it's valuable as yet another view of what may end up being the most thoroughly documented war ever waged.