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Palm Pictures presents
Gunner Palace (2004)

"Some days, it almost feels normal here"
- Michael Tucker

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: June 27, 2005

Stars: Bryant Davis, Devon Dixon, Javorn Drummond, Elliot Lovett, Nick Moncrief, Richmond Shaw, Terry Taylor, Stuart Wilf, Michael Tucker
Director: Michael Tucker, Petra Epperlein

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for strong language throughout, violent situations and some drug references
Run Time: 01h:25m:11s
Release Date: June 28, 2005
UPC: 660200311629
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

For the documentary Gunner Palace, filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein were given two month access to a group of 400 or so U.S. soldiers based out of one of the elaborately ornate strongholds of the Hussein family. Even with the war being considered "over", the continuing presence of American troops in Iraq represents the presiding oxymoron that Tucker and Epperlein are quick to remind viewers throughout their film by using snippets of radio news broadcasts that paint an entirely different picture of what is really going on in places like Baghdad. The positive news blurbs fed to us hide the truth, and Tucker and Epperlein bend the corners to allow the soldiers to really tell it like it is.

The film is essentially structured like a prolonged episode of Cops, with cameras following the soldiers as they go on raids, search for bombs, and face a general wave of hatred from the locals, including a scene of young children pelting a passing convoy with large rocks. In between, the soldiers are shown during their "down" time, existing with rats, wishing for beer, and creating some freestyle raps about the daily challenges. Even the mind-boggling fact that they had to personally harvest Iraqi scrap metal (a dangerous task unto itself) to retrofit their vehicles for safety is done with an alarmingly grim sense of humor that makes the faithful taxpayer in me scream "What the f*** is going on here?"

There is an obvious slant here from Tucker and Epperlein—one that may be troublesome to those who believe everything the government says—but it is a valid one that gets hammered by the contrast between the news reports and what the cameras show. The funny thing is the soldiers never outright complain or whine, and instead treat their situation and surroundings with a weird sense of dark humor seemingly born out of a necessity of self-preservation.

The reality that Tucker and Epperlein capture in Gunner Palace will hopefully piss you off, and simultaneously give you a renewed sense of pride in the spirit and adaptability of the American soldier. The tagline for the film is "Some war stories will never make the nightly news", and we know they're following orders, but the sometimes completely fictitious spin put on the situation by our own government remains a baffling explosion of double talk that seems to soften and gloss the constant life-and-death struggles that these men and women face.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Gunner Palace is presented in 1.85:1 nonanamorphic widescreen, and the image quality varies a bit depending on when or where a sequence was shot (such as the night shots, which tend to not be as sharp). For a documentary, colors look consistent throughout, with no print damage or debris.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Two audio options here, one in 2.0 stereo and the other in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The stereo track will suffice if need be, delivering the interview segments and narration cleanly, but the 5.1 track expands some of the random explosions to the rear channels, adding some spatial depth to things.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 58 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Freestyles: The Art of Rhyme, Bomb The System, The Nomi Song
17 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Gunner Freestyles
Extras Review: There are 17 Deleted Scenes (27m:50s) included here, and like the film itself, are short, often unrelated looks at the lives of the soldiers and their day-to-day existence, good, bad or otherwise. No doubt cut to keep the film at a crisp 90 minutes, these merit a look.

A set of three audio-only rap tracks called Gunner Freestyles are provided, featuring some of the soldiers performing their "freestlyle" rhymes about life during wartime.

The disc is cut into 58 chapters, with optional subtitles in English.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

We've been told the war is over, but you'd never know it by this documentary about a group of U.S. soldiers stationed in the former palace of Uday Hussein. You can call it a military version of Cops, but the resiliency and gallows humor of the young troops in the face of imminent death packs Gunner Palace with a haunting and unnerving intensity.

Highly recommended.


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