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March 29, 2009

War documentary a brotherly affair

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


At first, I had trouble putting aside my feelings of the immorality and illegality of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq when I began watching this film, but filmmaker Jake Rademacher “disarmed” me, because “Brothers at War” is more about family than it is about war. This is simply not a very political film.

In this documentary, Jake is the oldest of five brothers and two sisters from a close-knit DeKalb, Ill., family. He had planned to join the Army like his brothers Isaac and Joe, but bad eyesight made it impossible.

“Brothers” is, in part, Jake’s quest to see what might have been in his own life as he goes to Iraq to film Isaac, Joe and their fellow soldiers in action. He is also interested in winning his brothers’ respect and wants to show the rest of his family (and the world) what his brothers are doing over there.

Nothing truly sensational transpires beyond the tedium and danger of a long war made of up improvised-explosive devices, sniper attacks, surveillance, community public relations and a matter- of-fact death or two (some sanitized, some not). The pacing and editing are consistently engaging. Flashbacks to the Rademacher boys as kids show that they continue their tactile playfighting, jokes and hugs into adulthood.

This is a war documentary made by a sensitive guy. He is determined that he and his brothers are not going to grow apart emotionally, and he’ll do whatever it takes — even follow them to Iraq — to make sure that doesn’t happen. Jake’s quiet strength and giftedness in the arts are his gifts to his family that they will treasure now for generations.

In the film, Jake embeds with troops on a five-day mission where we catch soldiers jawing about the usual: girlfriends and wives; why are they doing this; their love of America and freedom.

One young man sums up: “It’s confusing. I’m home for a year, away for a year, home for a year. I love the adrenaline rush of kicking doors down, but I love my family, too.” The love extends to the Iraqi people and their struggle.

In the end, most soldiers agree what they do is all about family. They do what they do for family, even for the baby girl who may not remember who you are, if and when you return.

There is honest talk of less altruistic motivations: Military are a “higher caliber” of people to be around; I want to make Dad proud; I didn’t want to get stuck in my little town. Another young soldier says: “I would give my life for America any day. I wouldn’t think twice.” And he means it, and he knows exactly what that means now, and he just might have the chance.

The USCCB did not rate this film.

Burns ministers in Chicago and studied screenwriting at the University of California.