Movies You Missed 61: The Invisible War | Live Culture

Movies You Missed 61: The Invisible War

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters


This week in movies you missed: Rape happens with alarming frequency in the U.S. military. And most perpetrators get off scot-free.

What You Missed

Director Kirby Dick has brought us muckracking documentaries on closeted politicians who take public antigay stances (Outrage) and the MPAA ratings system (This Film Is Not Yet Rated). In The Invisible War, he sets his sights on a seeming epidemic of sexual assault in our armed forces. Twenty percent of female veterans report having experienced it, and it’s not solely women; one study claims almost 20,000 male soldiers were sexually assaulted in 2009.

An estimated 80 percent of such crimes go unreported, and the film demonstrates why. The military’s long-time policy has been to require soldiers to report all assaults to their unit commanders — even when those commanders are the perpetrators. Sgt. Myla Haider, who investigated such crimes and then became the victim of one, delivers a succinct judgment on the system. It might as well be designed, she says, “to help women get raped better.”

Dick lets the survivors of these crimes speak for themselves in interviews. There are many, of both sexes and various ages; their stories are harrowing, and their anger is palpable. The film follows a group of women attempting to use legal action to bring attention to the issue.

They failed to initiate reform — but The Invisible War succeeded. A coda to the film notes that, two days after he watched it, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced new rules for the handling of sexual assault in the military.

Why You Missed It

Aside from a screening last Saturday at the Vermont International Film Festival, The Invisible War never got here.

Should You Keep Missing It?

The Invisible War isn’t the easiest film to watch, but it’s worth it — not just to work up your outrage (though you should), but to learn more about today’s military, who joins, and how it works (or doesn’t).

Some viewers may not be happy that progressive filmmaker Dick doesn’t take a stand against the military itself. But that’s something I appreciated, because to use these women’s testimony to bash the armed forces or America’s “war culture” would not be true to them.

The interviewees are highly diverse: a married lesbian in San Francisco; a Christian mom in Ohio; a military brat (Seaman Recruit Hannah Sewell, pictured with her father, Sgt. Major Jerry Sewell) who called her dad in tears to tell him she was no longer a virgin. Some are emotional; others are stoic. What they all seem to share is a strong commitment to military service. In most cases, the commitment is still there, coupled with an astonishment at how badly the system — and, in some cases, fellow soldiers they considered their “brothers” — betrayed them.

It’s a sobering documentary that will make you think about why rape culture thrives in certain closed environments (male-on-male rape, too, we’re reminded), and what we can do about it. Is it enough to tell women to walk in pairs and men to “wait until she’s sober,” as the armed forces has been doing through its preventive campaign? Not even close. The problem, we’re shown, involves egregious and deliberate abuse of power by individuals who know they won’t face consequences. Change won’t come until they do.

Verdict: an advocacy doc that does more than preach to the converted.

More New DVD Releases

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Crooked Arrows (at last, a sports movie about lacrosse!)

Free Men (WWII tale of an Algerian in the French Resistance)

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection

Magic Mike

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (the world’s first apocalyptic rom com)

Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley directed this well-reviewed drama in which Michelle Williams is torn between her husband [Seth Rogen] and a guy she just met.)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)