In 2003, the documentary Gunner Palace became the most dramatic real account of the United States’ war in Iraq, as embedded cameraman Michael Tucker followed the 2/3 Field Artillery through Baghdad. One of the most memorable segments of the film was a nighttime raid on the Abbas home, suspected of housing a bomb-making cell. When dragged out, the family pled innocence; one of the four brothers present proclaimed himself a journalist. His appeal fell on deaf ears, the raid was carried out, and the four Abbas brothers were carried away.

The Prisoner revisits that raid, in particular the account of Yunis Abbas, the journalist, with whom Michael Tucker was reunited in 2005. This film includes footage of that raid, as well as interviews culled from the same batch of material used to create Gunner Palace.

But the editorial here is more pointed; the central source of information is a set of interviews with Abbas, who describes his detention by Saddam and Uday Hussein in 1998, as well as the raid and his consequent incarceration in Abu Ghraib. Parallels between the behavior of Saddam’s brother and US officials aren’t lost on Abbas or Tucker. Consequently, while this film plays like a straight interview, it’s far more accusatory than Tucker’s last movie, which could at least be guised as an unblinking view of military action.

Unlike Gunner Palace, which generated a sense of unreality simply through the amazing circumstances of war in Baghdad, The Prisoner uses a comic book aesthetic to emphasize Abbas’ recollections. Pullquotes are written on the screen like word balloons. Descriptions of torture and interrogations are drawn in a crude but effective poster art style, with images of violent fantasies like Rambo and Indiana Jones contrasting with a narrative of unrelenting and unexplained abuse.

The effect is dramatic, and I never found it veering into trivialization of the events. Well, not on Abbas’ side; Tucker seems very happy to trivialize our policies and interrogation methods. And why not? He’s dug up statistics which suggest that most detainees have no terrorist background or intent. That seems like common sense, and in Abbas Tucker has an articulate and intelligent spokesperson for an entire contingent of Arabs wrongly incarcerated.

So why does The Prisoner feel less effective than Gunner Palace? Perhaps because the conclusions are so easily drawn and so obvious. Of course the detainee policy is asinine. But that’s war. Show me a side that didn’t arrest everyone and figure it out later; I don’t think that force exists, though I respect Michael Tucker for hoping that it might.

7.2 out of 10