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Powerhouse ‘Palace’ 

PALACE LIFE: War documentary.
  • PALACE LIFE: War documentary.
Part of the reason war is so damned terrible is — of course — the kids they send off to war. While diplomacy and politics are the prerogative of the old, it’s always up to the young folks to fight when the politicians can’t resolve their differences. The scars left over, even the ones you can’t see, linger much longer than battle. While we haven’t started seeing the psychological fallout of the Iraq War, we surely soon will be. With Iraq turning out to be the same kind of never-safe, who’s-my-friend-who’s-my-enemy combat that turned a generation of young Vietnam veterans into emotional basketcases, the tidal wave of internally wounded young men and women are coming and when they get here, it surely won’t be pretty. The proof of that goes on display this weekend at Market Street Cinema, with “Gunner Palace.” A documentary profiling the lives of a group of young soldiers on the front lines of Iraq, it’s a moving and insightful piece, one that keeps its politics in check so as to reach as wide an audience as possible. Here, filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker spent six months with 400 members of the 2/3 Field Artillery, the “Gunners.” Spending their days holed up in one of Uday Hussein’s bombed-out pleasure palaces — complete with a round bed and an Olympic-sized swimming pool (which makes for some surreal, “Apocalypse Now”-style scenes as helicopter gunships swoop and return fire over what might be a backyard pool party) — the young soldiers spend their days chasing rats and playing stupid jokes on one another, and their nights patrolling the streets, where every box, bag or lump of trash might be a dreaded Improvised Explosive Device. The most tragic thing of all in “Gunner Palace” is not the explosions or gunfire or even the news that some of the young men we see onscreen have been killed. Most tragic is how comfortable these young soldiers have become with death. They chat about it like the weather. It hangs about them like smoke, even when they are just lounging around the pool, waiting to go back out on patrol. In order to get that close to death, you have to put something away — something vital. While that process is a necessity in the morally lopsided place Iraq has become, “Gunner Palace” is a film that both asks and then hints at an answer to the ultimate question of war — the same question poets from Homer to Walt Whitman have asked before: No matter who wins or loses, once you’ve made young men who are comfortable walking with death, what do you do with them? Though the answer to that is yet to be told, “Gunner Palace” is a good entree to what is likely to be a long and costly American nightmare. No matter where you come down politically on the subject of the Iraq War, it’s a movie you must see, if only to measure the cost of our convictions. — By David Koon Taking ‘Hostage’ I like Bruce Willis. I know, I know: “Hudson Hawk,” “Last Man Standing,” all those talking baby movies. Still, Willis has redeemed himself in recent years by taking and succeeding in some meatier roles — who didn’t like his turns in “Pulp Fiction” and “The Sixth Sense,” for instance? Just when I thought ol’ Bruce was going straight, along comes the trailer for another shoot-’em-up: “Hostage.” Surprisingly, though, “Hostage” turned out to be more than a waste of hot lead. Founded on a bedrock of solid, human characters, this is one action film where you might actually care when one of the principals gets shot/stabbed/blown up. Here, Willis plays Jeff Talley, a top LAPD hostage negotiator who is getting sloppy under the pressure. After a situation goes as wrong as it can, Talley blames himself and quits. A year later finds him the police chief of Norman-Rockwellesque Bristo Camino, the kind of town where four cops might respond to a call of kids pitching nickels in an alley. Trouble looms, however, when three teen-age burnouts pull a home invasion on a wealthy local resident, Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack). After a cop winds up dead, the three hole up in Smith’s fortress-like house, holding him and his two kids hostage. Talley is soon forced back into the job he left behind. There’s a twist, however: It turns out that Smith is a mob accountant who was just about to make a drop of some very important documents — documents that are now secreted on a DVD in Smith’s study. Soon, the bad guys kidnap Talley’s family and give him an ultimatum: Get the DVD out of the house in six hours or his family dies. To make matters worse, one of the teen-agers barricaded inside turns out to be a psychopath/firebug with a Messiah complex, bent on going out — very literally — in a blaze of glory. Fast-paced, full of thumbscrews that are constantly being tightened, “Hostage” is a great time at the movies — if, that is, you’re a fan of the genre that Willis all but created in 1988’s “Die Hard.” To that end, it’s understandable that Willis is fine here in the role he does better than anyone: the man on a mission with something to lose. While “Hostage” could have stood a dose of the wise-ass humor Willis brought to the “Die Hard” series, it’s still a potent thriller. If you’re into that brand of action, be sure to check this one out. — By David Koon
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