There's a weird theme that keeps cropping up in Michael Tucker's documentary account of a battalion of American soldiers as they patrol a trigger-happy section of Baghdad in 2003-04. Speaking from the surreal surroundings of a partially bombed-out Uday Hussein pleasure palace, soldiers -- both black and white, both gung-ho and cynical -- all turn to Tucker's camera at some point and say "Don't forget us. Please, man. Don't forget us."
They know the deal. Major combat is over. Iraq is a crappy war, one that seems distant and disconnected from their fellow Americans. The reasons we invaded turned out to be lies, and our ultimate goal seems hard to articulate.
But death is real. Shrapnel is real. Mortars -- aimed at nothing in particular -- that fall into your back yard every night are real.
Soldiers die every day in Iraq, sometimes doing crazy things like driving the dangerous road to Baghdad International Airport because they have a serious jones for a Whopper, or stopping to help some glue-sniffing kid on the street.
There's not a lot of bloodshed or John Wayne gusto in Gunner Palace. Instead it offers a subtle, realistic glimpse into a deployment as soldiers -- people from towns very much like Spokane or Rathdrum or Bonners Ferry -- deal with boredom, tension and their growing anger over risking their lives for poorly defined and perhaps unachievable political goals.
Soldiers often rap for the camera, their buddies pounding out a rhythm on the hood of a Humvee. In one such scene, Spc. Richmond Shaw raps about the prospect of death: "For y'all, this is just a show, but we live in this movie."
The words come with a forceful "cha-chenk" as the young soldier loads his M-16, then turns and walks away from the camera.