The Most Overlooked Movie of 2008

The end-of-year movie lists will begin appearing over the next week. I have a prediction for what will be the most overlooked, undeservedly ignored movie of the year. It's Standard Operating Procedure.

Standard Operating Procedure is a documentary by filmmaker Errol Morris, creator of some of the most important documentaries of our time, such as The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War. He did some cool Apple ads too.

The film is about the Abu Ghraib incident. We all saw those sickening photos of American soldiers performing abusive and humiliating acts on Iraqi detainees. So, we go into the movie pretty much knowing all about it, or, at least, thinking we do. Morris deconstructs the photographic evidence with rapier precision, and interpolates all the individual data to determine exactly what we can say about what did and did not happen behind the bars at Abu Ghraib.

The movie is as satisfying as a finely crafted essay—and you know how exciting those can be. This is not Michael Moore-style propaganda and rhetoric, with all the thrust and scamper of a stuck hyena. The movie builds slowly and methodically, crafting Morris' case that the photographic evidence can be deceiving. It truly is a long form essay on film.

The other reason why I think this film is overlooked is because it may have been lost in a sea of "War on Terror" films. Not that the other films are bad, but it seems like there were a lot of them.

That's unfortunate, because Standard Operating Procedure does a unique thing. Most of the films tell us all about something we didn't know. For instance, I never would have heard about Dilawar the innocent Afghani taxi driver, who was abducted, tortured, and eventually killed by American forces, if not for Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side. (An award winning film that was abducted and tortured by incompetent movie studio handling. Gibney has sued the studio over its mismanagement.)

In Standard Operating Procedure, Morris takes a case that we all know about (Abu Ghraib), and points out that in fact the photographic evidence that we've trusted is deceptive, and—incredible as it might seem—the truth is much worse that what the photographs led us to believe, and not in a way we expect.

It's slow going and methodical (i.e. unexciting), but the logical conclusion is unmistaken and powerful.

I think Standard Operating Procedure is one of the very best movies of the year. Please don't overlook it, as I fear many critics are apt to do.


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Errol Morris Fan

I love errol morris documentaries but didnt know about those apple ads. cool beans.