Soldier's story of war in Iraq hurts, moves

Posted: May 02, 2008

This review originally appeared in coverage of the Philadelphia Film Festival.

He possesses the lean face and enigmatic smile of actor Ryan Gosling, not to mention the comparable star quality.

When Pvt. Tomas Young rolls down the corridors of the U.S. Senate with cane-carrying lawmaker Robert Byrd (D., W.Va.), who's 90 and a little wobbly on his feet, Young patiently steadies the senator's hand and jokes, "Both of us have kind of a hard time getting around."

Five days into his tour of duty in Iraq, the private sustained rounds from an AK-47 in his knee and shoulder, leaving him a paraplegic.

But being in a wheelchair, immobilized from the chest down, does not stop him from mobilizing against American involvement in Iraq.

Young is the subject of Body of War, a compassionate and impassioned portrait by talk-show host Phil Donahue and Austin, Texas, filmmaker Ellen Spiro. It is not merely an antiwar document, but a complex profile in courage of a paraplegic and patriot.

Young matter-of-factly tells his war stories. Here is the patriot who enlisted in the Army on Sept. 13, 2001, after seeing President Bush stand at ground zero and vow to get the evildoers. He thought he'd be dispatched to Afghanistan to hunt al-Qaeda; instead he was sent to Iraq.

Here is the paraplegic who, according to Vietnam veteran and activist Bobby Muller, is getting subpar health care from the Veterans Administration.

Here is the newlywed talking about erectile dysfunction and urinary tract infections, wringing black humor from medical battles.

Here is the elder of Cathy Smith's soldier sons unflustered as his mother inserts a catheter, reminding him that it's not the first time he's peed on her.

Here is the man who enlisted to fight for his country speaking out against the war.

The filmmakers intercut their chronicle of Young with 2002 sequences of Byrd arguing against congressional authorization of an Iraq invasion as Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) argue for it.

The parade of senators parroting the rationale for invasion - what we now know was misinformation - does not undermine Young's story. Given the private's eloquence, the flashbacks to 2002 are superfluous.


Body of War *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue. Featuring Tomas Young, Nathan Young, Cathy Smith and Sen. Robert Byrd.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.

Parents' guide: (medical candor)

Playing at: Ritz At the Bourse


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/.

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