When it comes to cinema, very few genres are fodder for some of the most breathtakingly visceral and affecting narratives as the world of documentary filmmaking. Hell, that’s why people flock to them every time they pop up (which admittedly, is rare outside of the festival circuit, at least in major theaters). And one of the most talked about directors of this recent golden age of vocal documentarians (I’m starring directly at you Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore) is Kirby Dick.
Starting off catching the eyes of the public and, primarily, cinephiles with his fantastic Sick, only to jump into the mainstream with his MPAA skewering This Movie Is Not Yet Rated, the director is back with what may not only be his best film to date, but also his most important.
The Invisible War tells the story of a handful of men and, mostly, women, who share one horribly traumatic life event. During their respective times defending this very country in the army, navy, etc., they were violently raped. Following the crimes committed against them, the men and women went to their superiors, only to discover that, not only because of the fact that judicial affairs in the armed services are handled completely internally, but that if they were to go public with the crime, they would be victimized even further. And now, as this film discusses, the criminals not only stay in their rank, but in a couple of cases, find that they even get promoted, without anything remotely resembling a punishment for changing the lives of these people.
First, prior to discussing just how breathtaking and emotionally moving the film is, technical aspects must be discussed. As a visual feature, the film is lacking. Mostly a series of talking heads and stock footage, the film lacks the virtuoso filmmaking style that makes a truly great documentary. In a year where we’ve seen a new film from Frederick Wiseman, Crazy Horse, following a 2011 that had a cavalcade of visually striking documentaries, to see something so technically simplistic is quite jarring. A film built entirely on re-tellings of events from the victims involved, the film is visually uninspired and stagnant, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best films of the year in spite of its lack of stylistic acumen.
Simply put, this is an important filmmaker making an important feature documentary about one of the most important topics affecting the armed services of this very nation. With the testimony from the victims being the forefront of the film, this is as emotionally challenging documentary that never shies away from giving us these men and women at their most vulnerable and emotional. Almost to a fault, we are privy to some of their most personal moments, all of which speaks to just how troublesome this story truly is.
A film inherently about the lack of responsibility given to those who have perpetrated these crimes, War is so much more than that. In these aforementioned moments of purity, be it a woman telling the camera about how she’d be lost without her husband or a man trying to come to terms with being a man viciously raped by unknown assailants, we see that one crime was committed in the actual act, but another one is committed daily, as these aggressors have taken so much away from these people.
Toss in political musings here and there (including one really intriguing note about a special screening held of the film that is discussed at the end of the film), and you have what may very well be the best documentary yet to be released this year, and easily the absolutely most emotionally draining.