Kristian Fraga’s “Severe Clear” breaks free of the “Iraq war movie” stigma by remaining essentially apolitical. The movie exclusively relies on cheap camcorder footage shot by U.S. soldier Mike Scotti during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, offering a fascinatingly intimate look at the fraternization and search for adventure shared by many members of the military. Because “Severe Clear” takes place five years in the past and doesn’t compare the state of the war to its current chaos, the movie contains on a timeless feel. It takes the focus off this specific incursion and emphasizes character motives, universal morality issues, and the two-way street of xenophobia. Scotti’s voiceover, culled from his diary entries, highlights a number of problems that could potentially arise in any foreign war. Discussing the various nomadic dwellers his battalion encounters in the desert, he wonders if even the friendly types might later turn into foes, concluding that “it’s tough to fight for the freedom of people you don’t trust.”
Superbly edited in a linear fashion and a vibrant (but yet-to-be-completed) score, “Severe Clear” manages to become a fluid cinematic experience, despite its reliance on Scotti’s unsteady camera work. Although he’s certainly not a candidate for the American Society of Cinematographers, Scotti displays a fierce committment to his photographic lens. When he’s not running for cover, he puts a blatant effort into composing lucid shots, and occasionally hits on strikingly lyrical images. In one memorable scene, he and his colleagues watch bombs light up the night sky as they fall on Baghdad for the first time since the Gulf War. Scotti says the moment gives him a sense of vengeance, but openly admits to the simplicity of the thought. Watching “Severe Clear,” it’s obvious what Brian De Palma failed to understand with his fake Iraq documentary, “Redacted”: That many young soldiers are guided less by ideology than emotional conviction.