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Standard Operating Procedure (2008)



Average Rating: 7.1/10
Reviews Counted: 100
Fresh: 79 | Rotten: 21

Well researched and finely crafted, Standard Operating Procedure is another gem from master documentarian Errol Morris.


Average Rating: 7.2/10
Critic Reviews: 35
Fresh: 29 | Rotten: 6

Well researched and finely crafted, Standard Operating Procedure is another gem from master documentarian Errol Morris.



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Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 2,639

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Movie Info

Filmmaker Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line) takes an unflinching look at the Abu Ghraib prison scandal while meditating on the frightening side effects of the War on Terror in a thought-provoking documentary from Participant Productions (An Inconvenient Truth). ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi


Documentary, Special Interest

Oct 14, 2008

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All Critics (103) | Top Critics (36) | Fresh (79) | Rotten (21) | DVD (5)

Morris offers valuable new perspectives on Abu Ghraib, but the paying customers may not care to go there again.

June 23, 2008 Full Review Source:
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Standard Operating Procedure feels like a historical work in progress, brilliant, thought-provoking but incomplete.

June 6, 2008 Full Review Source: Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
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As unappetizing as the subject may seem, Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure exerts a hypnotic pull anyway.

June 6, 2008
Miami Herald
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Truth is a matter of perspective in director Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure, a piercing look at the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and the aftermath of their discovery.

June 6, 2008 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
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The result is a devastating film, and an important one.

May 30, 2008 Full Review Source: Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle
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Probes deeper than any other Iraq war documentary.

May 23, 2008 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
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A female face: unformed personalities the equivalent of the portrayal of naïveté by Sissy Spacek in "Badlands." An improbable horror movie about metadata and its discontents.

April 8, 2014 Full Review Source: Newcity

The film's bloody dramatizations...suggest a fundamental distrust of the efficacy of the word over the image and a bland assumption that audiences have lost their ability to empathize.

November 14, 2013 Full Review Source: Film Comment Magazine
Film Comment Magazine

A bore and a real pain to sit through.

August 9, 2011 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Fascinating and horrifying, especially if you take a step back and view it thinking about what it tells us about the society in which these abuses took place.

December 5, 2008 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide
Apollo Guide

Examines both the mystery of primitive human instincts and the nature and power of photography.

November 14, 2008 Full Review Source: Window to the Movies
Window to the Movies

For American military personnel to descend to Saddam's level was one of the worst moments in US history, and Morris's film reveals the truth: the poisonous Abu Ghraib pictures were not merely an American scandal but a human catastrophe.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Guardian [UK]
Guardian [UK]

Morris's distillation of long talks with young ex-soldiers and the female general who commanded prisons all over Iraq is among the best documentaries on the Iraq war.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Screen International
Screen International

Haunting photographs and video seemingly point a finger at the low-ranking indicted soldiers. Equally haunting is the notion that journalists and the public assumed they had seen everything.

October 18, 2008
Palo Alto Weekly

Morris never gets close to the administrative attitude that apparently sanctioned, perhaps even encouraged the goings-on, despite Karpinski's contention that 'none of this produced useful intelligence.'

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: San Diego Metropolitan
San Diego Metropolitan

A worthwhile... meticulously reported film, splashed with [Morris'] own, unique style.

October 16, 2008 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Engaging, well-made documentary that will provoke outrage, shock and horror in equal measure.

July 18, 2008 Full Review Source: ViewLondon

As shocking are the prisoner treatments permitted as "standard operating procedure". A disturbing, dispassionate investigation.

July 17, 2008 Full Review Source: Teletext

Standard Operating Procedure is a brilliantly, almost self-consciously, stylish film.

July 10, 2008 Full Review Source: The Australian
The Australian times it veers dangerously close to being just another solipsistic horror show, another magic trick in which absolution is achieved through ordinariness.

July 4, 2008 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

In taking us beyond the edges of those infamous photographs, he shows us a system that did more than produce a few bad apples; it was rotten to the core.

July 4, 2008 Full Review Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Sydney Morning Herald

A film of great sadness about how we humans debase ourselves; it's also an important reminder to never jump to conclusions from appearances

June 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

In some ways, Standard Operating Procedure is too appalling to appreciate. It's like watching the Nuremberg Trials, Nazis purposefully passing the buck higher and higher up, fully aware that no one above a certain rank is around to take the blame.

June 26, 2008 Full Review Source: PopMatters

Non-essential Morris. Pick any other documentary to find more interesting and colorful subjects.

June 19, 2008 Full Review Source: Movie Habit
Movie Habit

Errol Morris has become the Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese of documentary filmmaking, with all the positives and negatives that rather facile comparison implies.

June 17, 2008 Full Review Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

Audience Reviews for Standard Operating Procedure

Errol Morris tries a different style in this one. The interviewees don't look straight into the camera (his signature shot), but it's also not a film about backwoods hillbillies or pet cemeteries. The subject matter is intriguing, and it's cool to get testimonies of the prison guards in trouble. Yes, I believe they got set up for failure, and as brainwashed military they were just doing what they were told to do. However, could they be any more STUPID to take all those pictures? I think not. Hmmm...let's give a thumbs up and smile while standing over the dead body of a guy we killed. Real classy.
January 11, 2009
Curtis Lilly

Super Reviewer

"The fact that a person acted to pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." - Nuremburg Principle IV

"Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms." - Groucho Marx

Errol Morris turns his eyes from the top of the military command with Robert McNamara(currently burning in hell) in "The Fog of War" to those at the bottom with the riveting documentary "Standard Operating Procedure" about the documented abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. Per his usual style, he allows his subjects to tell their own story and possibly explain what they were thinking when they took the infamous photographs of abuses. My personal theory is that they were meant as souvenirs much in the same way that hunters would take photos of themselves with animals they killed. While expressing doubts in letters back home, Sabrina Harman said she took the photos as evidence while also appearing smiling in some of them.

On one level, there was the standard operating procedure which consisted of bringing in Iraqi men of military age at random and softening them up for interrogation which included sleep deprivation.(The photograph of the prisoner standing on a box with his arms outstretched was part of procedure.) Even these procedures turned out to be useless in gathering useful intelligence. Then, there were actions which even the authorities thought went beyond this which included ritual sexual humiliation. A lot of this has to do with power, as the poorly trained and unsupervised soldiers as part of a herd mentality used it against those who could not defend themselves. The fact that they tried to hide what they did from their superiors proves that they thought they were doing something wrong. My only question: is how did the photographs get out?

And one minor point: "Standard Operating Procedure" was distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. At one point, in the documentary two of the cameras are identified as being Sony. Since this might not have been necessary, there is a hint of product placement.
July 27, 2009
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Oh boy. I saw this one at the same time as Taxi to the Dark Side and they kind of morph into each other. Errol Morris as usual gives us some interesting visuals...but imagine if the two documentarians had collaborated on a much better join project?
November 5, 2008
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

Not easy to watch, but it is still one of the most important films of 2008. The film is tremendously engaging and educational. We only got a fraction of the story in the media, and Errol Morris' choice of just letting the soldiers that he could get to interview simply speak about their experiences in the prison gives it a whole new perspective. Morris, doesn't really take a stand about what happened other that the fact that the line between a "criminal act" or a "standard operating procedure" is not clear at all. Also, to say that this event was isolated to a few soldiers is a complete lie. There certainly were high ranking military officials responsible, whether directly or indirectly, and they have yet to answer for it.
October 24, 2008
Alec Barniskis

Super Reviewer

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Latest News on Standard Operating Procedure

April 1, 2010:
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June 9, 2009:
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