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Dirty Wars (Rick Rowley – 2013) Movie Review

A couple of years ago I remember talking to friends about how The Act of Killing was easily of one the best documentary films that I had ever seen. Despite the overwhelming chorus of “YASSSS”, there were a few who said, ‘yeah it’s great, but it’s no DIRTY WARS.” Until today, I had no idea that they were right. It’s rare that such a pervasive subject, that dominates mainstream media like the ‘War on Terror’ can yield anything more heinous than it’s ongoing existence. Director Rick Rowley, co-writer David Riker and co-writer/host Jeremy Scahill put U.S military activities under the microscope and discover a new arm of the military spawn into the U.S.A’s primary precision tool for covert action.

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Under the veil of darkness, deep in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, yet another U.S military ‘night-raid’ is conducted. This time, something’s not right. Investigative journalist Scahill uncovers that this Taliban target is in fact a family gathering full of American trained Afghani soldiers fighting the Taliban. The botched mission, and the heinous tactics of the attempted cover-up (digging U.S bullets from their corpses) trigger an investigation that uncovers the tip of an Everest sized iceberg know as “JSOC” or Joint Special Operations Command.

Rick Rowley’s direction is just sensational. It has the feeling of an international espionage thriller in the composition and interaction of the subjects, toeing the line with ensuring that the audience trusts Scahill’s position at the centre, and crafting the unfolding story. The revelation that the language of how the media perceives the events of the war on terror being controlled through “JSOC” is what’s staggering and frightening. When the subject is the United States Military industrial complex, there’s really no doubt that their contribution to this kind of inflammatory accusation Rowely and Scahill do a great job of only slightly peppering their subject’s input to their thesis. It’s flashes of one line, when you can almost feel that long, involved and illuminating conversations probably lead them towards other leads in the story. Rowley uses calculating self-censorship to place Scahill back to the centre and back to the most human and relatable human element of such a pervasive and monstrous force.


Rowley, Riker and Scahill reframe the documentary to discuss an American Muslim sheik, initially galvanised to support the U.S in the wake of the events of 9/11 who later begins to insight violence against them. The filmmakers aren’t dismissive about the change of heart, they take the time to unpack how a man, once a model for peaceful Muslim Americans that denounced terrorism, to someone that speaks out against the U.S and recruits like minded slims to fight against the U.S. The final tragic scene of Steven Spielberg’s underrated masterpiece Munich, Avner (Eric Bana) and his covert liaison Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) are debating whether any of the reprisals against the Black September terror group have meant anything. Avner is raw, weary of the fact that his team have done nothing except to spawn new multiple replacements. Ephraim (Rush) is calm and wants to stop him from being inquisitive. He is attempting to convince him that he did what was required for the mission. As they part ways, and just before the credits role, Spielberg pulls bag to compose the Twin Towers (still there at the time that the film is set) as a giant question mark. Rowley, Riker and Scahill echo the same question throughout Dirty Wars; is anything that the U.S armed forces are doing helping the people they’re out to protect or the people that isn’t directly resulting in anti-American sentiment?

Dirty Wars is frightening and it’s not over. 

Score: 4.5/5

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Directed by: Rick Rowley           

Written by: David Riker and Jeremy Scahill

Hosted and Narrated by: Jeremy Scahill

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