STUDIO:  HBO Home Video
MSRP: $24.98
RUNNING TIME:  57 Minutes
-Nothing but your sweet memories of Alive Day Memories

The Pitch

Get an all-too brief up close and personal view of just how the quixotic Iraq conflict is affecting our American soldiers in a very physical way.

The Humans

James Gandolfini and a host of war veterans.


The Nutshell

So, Iraq, huh? When we first met you, the fellowship was setting out to throw the ring in Mount Doom, there was only one CSI and topping the Billboard pop/rock charts was Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat”. This shit has staying power that most film production companies would love to emulate at the box office (to do so, just leave the movie in theaters long after everyone no longer wants it there). However, at this point especially, with election season gearing up and raring to go, it should be a time where the nation takes a sobered look at the conflict in Iraq and sees exactly what the consequences of leaving our soldiers over there in a guerilla war with enemies whose aim isn’t battle but instead destruction and deception exactly are. The alive day of the title refers to a day that becomes as important to some battle-wounded survivors as their birthday: the day when they survived gruesome attacks from the insurgency in Iraq. This documentary catches up with a handful of these soldiers and gets their story as to how their injuries were inflicted and how they’re learning to cope with them on a day to day basis.


The Lowdown

It’s hard to make a documentary about the Iraq conflict without politicizing it to some degree, but by focusing solely on the grim details of soldier’s injuries and how they’re learning to deal with it, directors Jon Alpert and Ellen Goosenberg Kent manage to take a sobering view of the cost of war without passing judgement on the conflict itself; instead, they allow for the soldiers themselves to decide whether or not their sacrifice was in vain. Some of them seem through with the conflict, others hope to return to finish what they started at some point. I appreciate the attempted lack of objectivity on display in Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, but the documentary’s running time is so brief that any sort of emotional or intellectual response is thwarted.


Gandolfini’s presence here is really extraneous; he doesn’t interject much at all in the interview segments, and most of his comments/questions have been edited out, leaving the majority of the admittedly slight just-under-an-hour runtime to the soldiers and their stories.  And they’re almost all harrowing to a T. An interesting cross-section of emotional reactions and opinions of the battle they were ensconced in show up over the running time (the brief shot of a female participant briskly refusing Gandolfini’s assistance really says all you need to know); there are some who clearly have made peace with the situation that robbed them of some appendage or ability, while others approach the process a little more guardedly.

The aforementioned scarcity of running time to really delve into each person makes this feel woefully inadequate in terms of getting into these characters (the brief glimpses of home lives and their stories feel like an appetizer to a documentary that would actually delve a little further). All we’re left with as it is is an all-too-brief glimpse into a wide variety of people trying to deal with the devastation wrought by a never-ending conflict that has left more than one nation in a state of disarray.


So while there isn’t enough here for me to truly recommend checking this out, anybody who’s looking for a soldier’s perspective on the current quagmire (a view that seems to be ignored oftentimes in our current news-scape, instead opting for outsider views often detached completely from the situation itself) should be obliged to check this out. However, I couldn’t muster much in the way of emotional reaction beyond a sort of resigned sadness when the documentary was clearly aiming for patriotic bombast at the very end of the documentary, so I don’t know if it hit the notes it thought it did throughout. Not in the upper echelon of soldier docs to come out in recent years, but still compelling for what little time it lasts.


The Package

The cover art is stark and hints at the emotional fortitude that these veterans have in dealing with their setbacks. The video quality is solid (although insurgent footage and other video stocks are understandably lesser so), but there aren’t any extras so you’ll only be buying this if you’re intensely interested in the presentation of the feature, which is slight, to be kind.

5.3 out of 10