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Eugene Jarecki
Writing Credits:
Eugene Jarecki

It is nowhere written that the American empire goes on forever.

He may have been the ultimate icon of 1950s conformity and postwar complacency, but Dwight D. Eisenhower was an iconoclast, visionary, and the Cassandra of the New World Order. Upon departing his presidency, Eisenhower issued a stern, cogent warning about the burgeoning "military industrial complex," foretelling with ominous clarity the state of the world in 2004 with its incestuous entanglement of political, corporate, and Defense Department interests.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$53.571 thousand on 6 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.436 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 6/27/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Eugene Jarecki and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson
• Extra Scenes
• “The Characters”
• “Talking About Why We Fight
• Trailer
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Why We Fight (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 15, 2006)

Ever since 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11 became a controversial hit, we’ve seen more and more ideological battles fought in the local multiplexes. Another salvo from the left comes via 2006’s Why We Fight, a look at the US military with an emphasis on the current war in Iraq.

Like most documentaries, Fight uses archival materials and interviews to tell its story. In the latter category, we hear from NYPD Officer Wilton Sekzer, former CIA agent (1967-1973) Chalmers Johnson, Carnegie Endowment for Peace’s Joseph Cirincione, author Gore Vidal, Center for Public Integrity’s Charles Lewis, US Department of Defense advisor Richard Perle, Project for the New American Century’s William Kristol, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Karen Kwiatowski, Senator John McCain, Stealth Fighter Squadron Commander Col. Rich Treadway, USAF Secretary James G. Roche, President Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan, Brigadier General (Ret.) John S.D. Eisenhower, defense scientist Anh Duong, military historian Gwynne Dyer, USAF Munitions Director Col. Wally Saeger, Raytheon Missile Systems director Donna Ellington, US DOD analyst (1977-2003) Franklin Spinney, soldier William Solomon, US Army recruiter Sgt. Michael Valentine, Pentagon Defense Policy Board’s Ken Adelman, CBS News’ Dan Rather, and Baghdad Morgue director Naji Sheeshan.

Fight starts with a look at 9/11 and its aftermath. From there it looks at the “Bush Doctrine” of pre-emptive strikes and their attempts to create a “one-superpower” world with the US at the fore. This subject takes us to the March 2003 start of the war in Iraq.

Fight also examines the roots of American military policy. Starting with World War II, the film looks at how the US evolved as a military power following that conflict, and we see the development of the military-industrial complex. The flick also depicts how it works in today’s society.

At times Fight attempts to humanize matters. We learn a little about Officer Sekzer’s son Jason, a victim of the World Trade Center attacks. We also observe Solomon as he enlists and discover what influenced his decision. Mostly Fight focuses on the talking heads as they discuss issues connected to the military.

Partially because both films start with the same segment of President Eisenhower’s farewell speech, Fight immediately invites invitations to Oliver Stone’s JFK. However, the comparisons dig deeper than that since both make similar points: the dangers of the military-industrial complex. In JFK, Stone accused this conglomeration of being the root of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Fight doesn’t provide a theory nearly as inflammatory. While this makes the flick more believable and realistic, it also highlights a problem with Fight: a lack of much new to say.

Without many exceptions, Fight essentially exists to tell us that the military-industrial complex feeds on war and led to our involvement in Iraq. Of course, that simplifies matters, but not to a huge degree. That’s the movie’s thesis, and it makes it fit into Iraq.

This is all well and good, but I can’t say that it tells us anything new. Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex has been echoed ad infinitum over the last 45 years, so I don’t know how much remains to bring to the table. I suppose Fight gives matters a current twist since it gets into Iraq, but it lacks much that I’d classify as fresh.

Some viewers paint Fight as a stridently left-wing program. I don’t see it that way – at least not to a strong degree. My ultra-conservative friend Mike would state that’s because I agree with the liberal viewpoint, but a) I’m not as big a lefty as Mike thinks, and b) I dislike anything with a relentless bias, no matter which side of the ideological debate it prefers.

This means I’m particularly sensitive to programs that force an agenda down our throats. That factor made Fahrenheit tough to take. Whatever good points Michael Moore scored were undone by his partisan idiocy. While his antics created an entertaining movie, they sabotaged our ability to take him seriously and view his work as anything other than a strident attack on the current administration.

Fight does advance its own agenda, but it lacks the Moore-style aggression. Unfortunately, it also fail to deliver Moore-style intrigue and creativity. The movie meanders around its points and doesn’t ever seem terribly sure what it wants to tell us. Is the film about the overall rise of the military-industrial complex or a more specific manifestation in Iraq? The point never becomes particularly clear as the flick rambles.

Much of the problem comes from the haphazard construction of Fight. It jumps from one subject to another without cohesion and fails to tie them together in a smooth manner. This means detours that dead end and other elements that don’t coalesce. I get the feeling the filmmakers want to pack in every thought they can find and they don’t worry about whether the final product makes sense.

That said, Fight does have some moments, particularly when it views things on a personal level. The moments with Solomon go nowhere, but Sekzer’s journey proves more provocative. I also like the brief segment with women who work in a bomb factory. These elements create a dual examination of the story and don’t limit us to one side or the other.

Unfortunately, the rest of Why We Fight sticks with fairly biased viewpoints. These aren’t as strident as we’d get from a Michael Moore film, but some folks clearly have axes to grind, and that undercuts the movie’s effectiveness. Combine that with moderately incoherent storytelling and a vague sense of its thesis and Fight ends up as a flawed documentary.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Why We Fight appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the nature of the production, the picture quality seemed pretty positive.

I didn’t factor the archival material not shot explicitly for Fight into my grade. Those elements demonstrated all sorts of flaws, but it didn’t seem fair to criticize the DVD for problems with that kind of stuff. As for the new shots, they presented solid sharpness. The new elements consistently looked crisp and detailed, and they betrayed few signs of softness. Those bits portrayed no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, but a little edge enhancement cropped up at times. As for source flaws, none occurred.

Not surprisingly, the DVD’s palette tended toward natural tones. The movie’s hues came across with positive clarity and definition. The colors always looked vivid and concise, and I noticed no problems with them at any times. Blacks also seemed deep and firm, while the occasional low-light shots appeared well defined and clean. I found the image to seem satisfying for this sort of flick.

Given the film’s focus, I expected little from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Why We Fight but instead found it to provide a surprisingly involving effort. Of course, the dialogue remained the focus, as the majority of the film’s information came from interviews or other conversational bits. However, the program used audio cues well to support the visuals. These mostly connected to the scenes of warfare and other military elements like Blue Angels shows. Those never became full-volume like they would in a recreation of such actions, as they remained in the background. Nonetheless, those elements showed good movement and localization, and they also spread to the rear well. The track occasionally even offered some split-surround material, such as for the flight of planes. Again, this stayed subdued, but it manifested itself well.

Audio quality also seemed fine. Speech was consistently crisp and concise, with no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Music and effects remained background elements to a substantial degree, but they seemed well-reproduced and clear. Ultimately, the audio of Fight complimented the film nicely.

Heading to the set’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Eugene Jarecki and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, one-time Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific effort. They work together well to create a good examination of the film.

Jarecki discusses the background of the movie’s participants as well as the assembly of the material. Wilkerson looks at the issues raised in the flick and gives his take on them. This creates a lively dialogue and allows the track to become fairly introspective. We get a nice overview of the various topics as the commentary expands on the various subjects.

Five Extra Scenes appear next. We get “Ike’s Evolution” (nine minutes, 51 seconds), “The Missing ‘C’” (4:40), “Frank Capra’s Original Why We Fight” (5:15), “The Dangerous Illusion” (5:41), and “What You Can Do” (4:34). “Evolution” provides a minor history of President Eisenhower and shows how his positions and personality grew. “Missing” looks into how Congress factors into the military-industrial complex, while “Capra” gives us some insights into that old project. “Illusion” examines “smart” weapons, and “Do” acts as a message for viewer follow-up actions.

These pieces are less “extra” and more “extended”. Most of them offer longer versions of existing sequences, so you’ll see some familiar material here. The “Capra” segment is the most interesting, as it lets us see some of this flick’s namesake. “Do” tends to be a bit preachy, while the others are fairly redundant. They expand on the movie’s material to a minor degree but don’t flesh things out in a remarkable way. There’re some decent pieces here but not a lot of fresh information.

More footage appears inside The Characters. These clips include “Wilton Remembers Jason” (1:17), “William and Yo-TV” (5:18), “Karen’s Story” (3:16), “Franklin ‘Chuck’ Spinney” (2:14) and “Chalmers’ Evolution” (1:43). These snippets give us a little more background about these participants. Some repetition occurs, but we do obtain a better feel for these folks and their histories.

“Talking About Why We Fight” splits into two areas. Audience Q&A offers “What Do You Hope to Achieve?” (2:20), “Doesn’t America Need Defense?” (3:22), “How Did You Meet Wilton?” (2:24) and “What Do High School Kids Think?” (5:17). Jarecki chats about the subjects above and provides a little more insight into his processes. This doesn’t do much to expand on the commentary, but the director tosses out a few decent notes. “Think” shows some teens and we hear their impressions of the flick and related subjects. It’s the most interesting aspect of this domain.

This section also presents two TV Appearances. We find clips from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (7:05) and Charlie Rose (9:01). The first offers a chat between Stewart and Jarecki as they discuss various aspects of the flick and the director’s beliefs. Rose looks at similar issues, though without the comic flourishes. It also takes on Jarecki’s impressions of US involvement in various post-WWII conflicts. These help expand our understanding of Jarecki’s work and his thoughts, though he repeats some ideas he offers elsewhere.

In addition to the film’s Trailer, a few ads show up in the Previews area. We find promos for Sketches of Frank Gehry, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Joyeux Noel, The White Countess, The Passenger, The Fog of War and Lightning in a Bottle.

While not as inflammatory and one-sided as Fahrenheit 9/11, Why We Fight also proves to be much less intriguing and gripping. The movie throws out vague theses and never quite gels into a strong look at its subject. In fact, it never appears all that sure what topic it favors, as it flits around the map. The DVD offers pretty solid picture and audio along with a fairly good set of extras. I can’t fault this release, but I also can’t claim that Fight presents a terribly involving investigation of its topics.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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