Film Review: Severe Clear: a Marines’ uncensored view on the liberation of Iraq

February 13, 2010 by Robert L. Hanafin

When promoters of the film Severe Clear sent a screener copy to Veterans Today for review and comment, I volunteered to take this film review on although I am not a war movie watcher nor trust anything that just might have Pentagon endorsement or funding. I was to be surprised in many ways.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: Oh, if you are offended by four letter words, this film review and flick is not for you. This is not a fictional drama, and these are not actors who have to limit their use of four letter words to within a range of at least an R rating. This is how Marines, and most Soldiers for that matter, no shit talk. Mainstream media is never going to bring such vivid detail to the American public and neither is the Pentagon.

Not only is the film NOT a Marine Corps infomercial for PR purpose or recruiting, I frankly could not see how the footage would ever have made it pass either Marine public affairs much less Pentagon public affairs during the early stages of the Iraq War when the services and mainstream media had a strong political PR incentive of only showing our Marines and Soldiers in a positive light that does not reflect negatively on the Corps or Army despite the realities of WAR. This is not a sanitized version of War.

Simply put I went into the film with an open mind, but from a left of center, Pro-Peace bias. Frankly speaking having lost a child to war, it is very hard for me personally to sit through any war movie regardless what the intent or motivation. Sitting through Severe Clear would be both hard and therapeutic on young (and older) Vets coping with PTSD for instance. The movie is that brutal and graphic.

As I watched the DVD screener, I took notes, and it is upon those notes that my review is based. After reviewing the movie myself, I then took a look at what others were saying about the movie to see how much our collective views jived. I did not want to be tainted by others experiences, biases, or hidden agendas going in.

Robert L. Hanafin, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, Veterans Today News

Why did Lieutenant Mike Scotti and film director Kristian Fraga choose the title Severe Clear?

Mike Scotti defined Severe Clear as “seemingly infinite visibility. The weather report on morning of 9/11 was “Severe Clear”, and this phrase became the title of the film about Mike’s time as a U.S. Marine in Iraq. The director of the film, Kristian Fraga, came up with the concept for the title, because he believed that Severe Clear is an “unofficial” FAA term used by pilots. For a first-person narrative about a war, the title works because the intimate nature of the subject allows those who have not served in combat to have visibility into the grim realities of what happens on the battlefield. There is also the link to 9/11, and the fact that friends of mine from high school lost their lives in the WTC, and that this was the catalyst that caused me to be among the first troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Though the link to 9/11 and revenge for 9/11 remains pretty much a theme of Severe Clear, I caution Pro-Peace or anti-war advocates from allowing this to turn you off. I ask that we leave our politics at the door and give Severe Clear an unbiased viewing. Regardless what we believed about the relationship between 9/11 and Iraq back in 2003 or today in 2010, the reality is that the vast majority of our troops, especially Marines, believed there was a connection. Many do so today but that does not make it so. We have to view this movie in the context, chronology, and time line in which Lt. Scotti filmed it. I believe that his intent was not to make PR in the first place and that is made clear in the filming and commentary. Mike’s intent was to present an unsanitized look and vision into what American combat troops no shit experience in war. Though influenced by politics, the last things on their minds are political views and politicians.  If we expect Marines to being going into combat sensitive to the concerns of people on the left of center (or liberals if I may) not only is that an unrealistic expectation, but this is not the movie for you. Marines are trained to KILL that is what they do SENSITIVITY is nowhere in their vocabulary. Does that means they are not human being sensitive to the chaos, and stench of death around them? Check out the movie and see.

I’ve jotted some of my initial impressions on my Facebook page. More on that latter, but this is what comes from my notes as I watched the screener. I’m new at this, so I’m trying best I can to not provide spoilers for those wishing to see the flick.

As I sat with a bowl of popcorn (no shit if I was going to watch a war flick when I’m not into war flicks, then I gotta have popcorn), I prepared to take notes, hell I was asked for my honest impressions.

In the first chapter or initial few minutes of the flick, aboard ship en route to Iraq, Lt. Scotti and the other Marines listen to Bush administration and mainstream media talking points that sold the Iraq War to the Congress and enough American people to make it happen. At first, I felt this was going to be a turn off. However, as I read between the lines and decided to watch and LISTEN to more of the narrative, it began to sound as if Mike was repeating or mocking what was being said over the ship’s PA system about weapons of mass destruction and so on and so forth, we know the drill.

Severe Clear starts out as if it is going to be yet another propaganda flick to either promote the U.S. Marine Corps (a Marine Corps infomercial if I may) and rationale for invading (excuse me liberating) Iraq. Please do not let that turn you off, I assure you that if you gave testimony at Winter Soldier, you will not be surprised by what you see in this movie in stark reality to what you gave witness to.

Examples of what held my attention, the Marines view that the media, be it mainstream or DoD public affairs, was there for PR and selling the war to the folks back home, screw the PR, Mike films what life is no shit like for Marines going into combat. Marines don’t do PR. Our job is to KILL plain and simple, and we like what we do.

There are plenty of gas and chemical attack warnings from the Chain of Command real, imagined or false intelligence. Regardless, no one is taking any chances. There are more quotes from President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and even SECDEF Don Rumsfeld that continue to lend a mocking effect to what they are saying about weapons of mass destruction and so forth.

Lt. Scotti makes it clear beyond a doubt that regardless what anyone else thinks outside of Kuwait or Iraq, this liberation is really about REVENGE for 9/11. Not only is it about revenge, but the disconnect between the Christian anointing of Crusaders to protect them from the Iraqi combatant enemy and pep talk from the company commander stressing war of liberation, giving Iraqis the same freedoms, same liberties, and protecting our love one’s at home borders on the hilarious if it were not so seriously inconsistent with reality. Scotti just keeps on filming what he and other Marines see without passing judgment. However, the message that we are over here to fight THEM so we do not have to fight THEM in America comes through loud and clear.

To say that the Marines were influenced by political propaganda would be an understatement. During the Company Commander’s pep talk he tells every Marine that now the Chaplain is going to come out and anoint each and every one of you with oil. No shit and we are not on a Christian Crusade in the Middle East, you could have fooled me based on what I saw in this movie.

Once again Scotti does not pass judgment as he is anointing with oil, he only keeps on filming it happening. In fact, there is no indication that I could tell if Scotti is even a Christian, but that did not matter to the company commander that day going into war all his Marines were Christian Soldiers if they wanted to be or not, and regardless what their religious beliefs were or were not.

The fact of life and spirituality of Marines is that they are placed on earth not to save humanity but to kill people that is what they do and their weapons are what they better worship most. At the same time the company commander is having his Christian Marines anointed, he is once again sending mixed messages stressing that his Marines need to understand they are there in Iraq not only to kill people but it is important for them to understand that they are there to liberate the people of Iraq, win hearts and minds, and not conquer them.

Combat, the stench of death is everywhere.

During the middle part of the flick are the combat sequences and plenty of dead bodies vividly displayed – all Iraqis of course the filming of U.S. casualties remains pretty much a no-no, but sets the precedence of socially acceptable filming the cost of war on all sides. In fact, the dead Muslims are displayed in such gruesome detail that even dead Iraqis still would not be allowed on mainstream U.S. media by Pentagon censors. There is also the accidental killing of innocent civilians in what is called the fog of war. Suffice it to say as Lt. Scotti did, “In war bad things happen ain’t that the mother fuckin truth.”

Oh, if you are offended by four letter words, this too is not the flick for you.

Nope, if foul language turns you off, and you don’t want your precious little Ann or Andy exposed to it, then this is not the movie for your family. However, be advised that this is how people at war talk – period, and though the focus of this movie is on guys, women at war talk like this too.

It has more four letter words than the religious right is accustomed to or the mixed company of liberals can stand. When these people set out to do a movie that would not be endorsed by the Marine Corps nor censored by propaganda merchants at the Department of Defense, the intent was to be able to use all the four letter words Marine combat troops desire, so momma if you think your babies grow up to be Marines don’t cuss before, during, and after combat this flick will be an eye opener. In fact, I got a chuckle between the Chaplain anointing the Christian troops with oil and the non-stop use of four letter words, but I was a grunt, so I see the barracks humor in such inconsistency.

Suffice it to say that without losing its gusto, including cussing, the last half of the movie begins to go downhill into scenes that question all the premises of ‘the politicians,’ political commanders, and political generals. Their chain of command told them they would be welcomed into Baghdad as heroes, liberators, and they frankly were or at least from what I could see in this flick and then all hell literally breaks loose showing just how the Marines and other ground forces were simply overwhelmed by the looting and rioting. How the people of Iraq so quickly turned on their American liberators. The emotions of we hate this place, we hate these people, and we want to simply pack up and go home lead the viewer to flash backs of Vietnam with the Marines climbing aboard a Freedom Bird to get out of Dodge – a Dodge city BTW that was worse than the American Wild West.

The movie leaves this Marine, and I must say from watching the screener, many Marines with questions about Iraq, September the 11th, vengeance, anger, weapons of mass destruction, lies, deceit, but one thing comes out perfectly clear – this Marine and all those filmed have no question what so ever about being PROUD TO BE MARINES nor any regrets.

They may not go back to Iraq for a President, may not even go back for the country, but they would not hesitate to go back for their brothers in the Corps!

ROBERT L. HANAFIN, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, Editorial Board, Veterans Today News

Link to Review on Veterans Today