Cinema Citizen’s Memorial Day Watch List – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

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On Memorial Day, as a way of honoring fallen heroes and those who’ve returned hone from war, take time to watch these emotion-filled documentaries that tell the true stories of combat veterans, ranging in age from newly recruited teens to seasoned career warriors, from all branches of the military, from across the United States and beyond. Listed in alphabetical order, this selection of impactful documentaries chronicle the experiences and emotions of men at war and show how those who return home struggle to reenter society and relate normally to their families. In their own words, these military men and women remind us that conflict resolution through peaceful negotiation is the better choice.


Danish documentary filmmaker Janus Metz, following young Danish soldiers on their first tour of duty in Afghanistan, chronicles the platoon’s experiences from the time of their testosterone-driven pre-deployment celebrations and sad goodbyes with family and friends who have obvious concerns about their safety, to their first terrifying shoot out with the enemy and ongoing defense against attacks, through their encounters with local people whose lives are torn apart by the ongoing conflict. Read Review



Journalist Ben Anderson spent two months embedded with U.S. Marines as they fought the in the largest (to date) offensive in the Afghanistan War. Called Operation Moshtarak, the strategy called for capture of Marjah, a small town with a large Taliban population. The film is Anderson’s chronicle of that operation. Read Review
BODY OF WAR (2007)

The heart wrenching story of how 22-year-old Tomas Young enlisted to serve his country and, on the first day of his deployment in Itaq, was paralyzed for life. The film, presented by Phil Donahue, is a convincing argument that young American soldiers are the real victims of the Iraq War. Read Review

Somewhere in the Mohave Desert, the U.S. military maintains a rural compound of several fake Iraqi towns. American soldiers are sent here to practice battle tactics and learn to deal with Iraqi people before their deployment to Iraq. The towns look real enough, with accurate street plans and architecture. And, they’re inhabited by a full cast of Arabic-speaking actors playing mayor, rebel, Sunni, Shiite, terrorist, loyalist, wife, mother, teenage boys and girls, grocer and all the other characters who’d live in a real Iraqi town. After a brief deployment here, the young soldiers are sent to deal with the real thing. Read Review

Filmmaker Danfung Dennis followed Sgt. Nathan Harris and the Marines of Echo Company on their deployment to Afghanistan. The result is Hell and Back Again, a war documentary that spans the globe from Afghanistand to North Carolina, while centering on Sgt. Harris’ particular — yet no doubt typical — experiences during his deployment in Afghanistan and after returning home from war. Read Review
LIONESS (2016)

Filmmakers Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers’ Lioness profiles a group of courageous women soldiers who were deployed to Iraq as support personnel–mechanics, cooks, and clerks–but found themselves in actual combat situations. Known as Team Lioness, they are the first generation of American women to return home as combat veterans, and their debriefing in this film is enlightening. Read Review

Filmmaker Mark Hopkins pays tribute to the dedicated doctors, nurses and support personnel who work for Medicines Sans Frontieres, the international NGO that provides health care in third world countries where medical treatment would be otherwise unavailable. Subtitled ‘Stories of Doctors Without Borders,’ the film follows several doctors as they save lives — and sometimes cannot — while coping with adverse and often dangerous conditions created by extreme poverty and political instability, including situations of civil war and genocide. Read Review

National Geographic filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger follow a platoon of U.S. soldiers, the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during their 15-month deployment to Afghanistan’s remote Korengal Valley. Without comment or personal intervention, the filmmakers show what it’s like to be at war. The soldiers are in constant danger, under extreme stress and always fearful. Tim Heatherington was subsequently killed while filming in the Middle East. Read Review

Profiles of eight American soldiers, four of whom believe that killing is wrong and refuse to kill, and four of whom believe that killing in times and under the conditions of warfare is necessary and acceptable. This well-balanced documentary shows that most combat personnel grapple with the morality of killing, and that whether decide to kill or refuse to do so, the issue has lasting effects on their lives, outlooks and future behavior. Read Review

Follow three Midwestern high school buddies who, after graduation, enlist in the National Guard, and find themselves deployed to Afghanistan, where they serve valiantly — but their psyches are changed forever. Read Review

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).