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Boys of Abu Ghraib

2014 | 102 min | R

Boys of Abu Ghraib


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Theatrical release date

 28 March, 2014

Country of origin

 United States



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Boys of Abu Ghraib


Boys of Abu Ghraib Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 27, 2014

With “Boys of Abu Ghraib,” Luke Moran attempts to become a triple threat in the industry. Serving as writer/director/star of the picture, Moran picks an incendiary topic for exposure, creating a drama based on situations found in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal from 2004, endeavoring to master a corruption of innocence arc found in multiple war features. While it’s certainly a provocative subject, and early moments suggest the helmer is on the right track when it comes to the depiction of military desperation, “Boys of Abu Ghraib” eventually loses itself to a syrupy flow of sensitivity while presenting one of the worst endings I’ve seen in quite some time.

After the events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jack Farmer (Luke Moran) is eager to serve his country. Signing up for duty, the young man leaves a life of peace with his family and girlfriend, Peyton (Sara Paxton), for the war zone of Iraq, soon stationed at the Abu Ghraib prison with a unit of similarly enthused soldiers. At first, Jack is stunned by the banality of duty, spending his days lifting weights and interacting with his newfound family, with the occasional bombing refreshing his memory when it comes to the dangers of an unseen enemy. Searching for a more meaningful service, Jack requests M.P. duty in the cellblock. Despite having no training, Jack is welcomed by a fellow guard (Sean Astin), given a crash course in the ways of handling a myriad of Iraqi prisoners. Witnessing torture and humiliation, Jack’s moral core is tested to the fullest, eventually befriending Ghazi (Omid Abtahi), a detainee who swears he’s innocent.

The opening “inspired by true events” card teases that Moran isn’t interested in the cold, hard facts of the Abu Ghraib scandal. He wants to generate a more heartbreaking sense of personal implosion, following Jack’s entrance into the Iraq War, where his sense of honorable duty is quickly flattened by the daily routine of military life. Instead of fighting the enemy on the front lines, Jack is sent to the prison, handed a cell for a room, and tasked with cleaning toilets, repairing vehicles, and keeping order with his fellow soldiers. It’s hardly what he imagined, and that disillusionment is captured wonderfully by Moran, studying an excitable man as he’s gradually worn down into a creature of schedules and distraction, counting the days until he’s allowed to go home. The unit interplay isn’t anything new (e.g. fart pranks and daydreaming), but the mood of stymied motivation is felt in full, helping to understand Jack’s desire to be transferred to the cellblock.

Once inside a hostile area home to Iraqi detainees, “Boys of Abu Ghraib” slows to a crawl, establishing Jack’s capacity for kindness in a harsh arena of torture, violence, and various grotesqueries involving human waste. Astin makes for a surprisingly believable hard-ass who teaches Jack the iffy rules of engagement, using blaring music, blunt force, and bullying to keep the inmates in line. It doesn’t take long for Jack to make a connection to Ghazi, with the pair trading stories about home life, while the Iraqi maintains his innocence, hoping to appeal to Jack’s softer side. The connection takes, altering the soldier’s perspective on Abu Ghraib interrogation techniques, changing his attitude to the war. The friendship is coupled with extended tours and canceled leaves, fueling Jack’s frustration as the comfort of Peyton’s company is cruelly pulled away from him, leaving him in a state of shock that’s only tempered by confessionals sit-downs with Ghazi. As to be expected with such a pairing, outsiders are understandably alarmed by his behavior.

Moran skips the crisp hardships of war to make a soggy tale of disgruntlement, employing an intrusive score by Dan Maroco and pouty soundtrack cuts to make obvious points of despair. Aiming for the heart, Moran sacrifices the feature’s complexity, begging for tears instead of constructing an intelligent take on the sacrifices and horrors of the Abu Ghraib prison. “Boys of Abu Ghraib” becomes unbearable as it misses salient points on external influences and innate barbarism, preferring to pack such an explosion of behavior into a “Twilight Zone”-style sucker punch finale, which is so ham-fistedly staged, it triggers unintentional laughs. It’s a shame the picture ends on its knees when it had to the potential to create a certain viewpoint that could invite an understanding of the Abu Ghraib prison environment and the stress placed on all involved parties.

Starring: Sean Astin, Sara Paxton, John Heard
Director: Luke Moran

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