American female soldiers are more likely to be raped by a fellow service member than killed by enemy fire. Only 14% of those attacked come out and report their abuse, and only 8% of men accused with sexual assault are prosecuted. Such disconcerting facts make up the bulk of provo documentarian Kirby Dick’s Oscar-shortlisted documentary The Invisible War (whose previous documentaries include Twist of Faith and This Film is Not Yet Rated). Treating the issue as an epidemic and plague, Dick confronts the subject, the witnesses and the culprits head-0n, and certainly doesn’t give us much in the way of respite.
A very tough movie, aside from the increasingly traumatic, revelations of misconduct, the subsequent cover-ups and the quasi-normalised nature of such events, Dick shouts the issue at us with continuous factoid title cards and harrowed talking head interviews with victims of rape and abuse, their families, and blind-sited state officials. Although some of these interviews have the desired impact, an onslaught of them for three quarters of the movie borders on the aggressive and exploitative. It’s cold, neither cinematically compelling or emotionally engaging, and some more personal touches, credible investigative journalism or involved authorship would have stopped The Invisible War from feeling like a lecture that berates the ill-informed audience.
Even if the documentary structure is formulaic and forgettable, the subject matter certainly isn’t. Allegedly the biggest cover-up in the USA’s military history, Kirby Dick gives a voice to the voiceless, and the film has already made significant changes: shaking up the Secretary of Defence, bureaucratic case handling and encouraging victims to oust their attackers. Baby steps in the right direction, The Invisible War is an aggravated and enraging documentary, but no doubt an important one too.