The Invisible War Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ October 6, 2014
Trigger Warning: descriptions of women going through reporting after sexual assault. Though I knew a bit about the inner workings of the US military, their treatment of women was a complete mystery. It turns out, female soldiers are treated as commodities even when they are risking their lives for this country. Not only that, but women in the military are forced into silence and their assailants go unconvicted. Various women come forward to tell their horrifying stories in this film, and the way they were mishandled by the military is terrifying. The system in place is hurting, and giving PTSD, to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women, and it needs to end permanently. This is a seriously emotional look into an institution that devalues women and, worst of all, creates an environment where women feel unsafe. These women joined the military to serve their country, but by the end of the film they hate the institution that they triumphed. That, above all else, is the most disheartening thing to see.
Super Reviewer
October 22, 2013
Disturbing and maddening, Kirby Dick's "The Invisible War" is an unfortunate document on the rampant rape and sexual violations that occur within the U.S. military, and how a corrupt system allows such acts to go unpunished on a continuous basis. Dick keenly steps aside and allows the victims of these atrocities and their gut-wrenching testimonies to be the heart of the film... rendered in the simplest, most straightforward of fashions. Much to nearly all of the visual inventiveness and on-screen director input present in "This Film is Not Yet Rated" (a great film also by Dick) has been stripped away and the film is more unshakable because of it. This is indeed heavy, uncomfortable content, but a powerful account that should be considered mandatory viewing for every single man and woman considering a career in the U.S. armed forces. It's sure to change a mind or two.
Super Reviewer
January 19, 2013
A disturbing and essential documentary that exposes the outrageous and horrifying rape and cover-up inside the US military, leading to numerous lives ruined by psychological damage - which hopefully will make women rethink before joining the armed forces.
Super Reviewer
January 17, 2013
This documentary explores the occurrences of sexual assault within the ranks of the U.S. military.
Did you know that it's more likely for a female servicemember to be raped than to be killed in conflict? And the PSAs that the military produces for soldiers are almost exclusively victim-blaming nonsense that is disguised as "prevention."
These are just two of the remarkable logos arguments in this harrowing, haunting documentary. The film has a good dose of journalistic integrity as it gives talking heads in the military brass an opportunity to respond to servicewomen's accusations, and all the interviewees' stories are well-told and tough to listen to. Although I found the film's use of these stories to get a bit repetitive during the film's middle third, it nonetheless renders a scary and unjust world for military women.
Overall, while I haven't seen all the nominate docs yet, this is certainly the front-runner.
Super Reviewer
January 10, 2013
Very well-made documentary. It really is shocking that this is happening and very little attention has been given to solve the problem of sexual assault in the military. What's worse than the stories presented in the documentary, is revealing how the military tries to cover-up, doesn't prosecute and essentially blames the victim instead of dealing with this issue and fully investigating each report of assault. The documentary mostly only shows one side of the issue but I really doubt the other side has much to say but rather needs to *act* and *change*.
Super Reviewer
½ January 4, 2013
"Invisible War" is an investigative documentary about the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. Using the stories of several women and men, it weaves a story of betrayal, cover ups, sadness, and ultimately a country that lets down the very people that swear to protect it. This movie will make you sad and furious at the same time. I've already messaged my brother and said I forbid my nieces to join the military(they wouldn't anyway, but now uncle ev says NO!) Obviously this movie only shows one side to the story, but that side is so strong that it makes you not care what the other side has to say. Is there some instances of where people are "the boy who called wolf" when it comes to rape? Sure. But not thousands of people a year within the military. This movie is one of the more shockingly documentaries I've ever seen, and anyone who has a young female in their life should watch this. It will make you want to protect them even more. This is one of the more "must watch" movies that I've seen in a while. Not for entertaining purposes, but for educational reasons.
Super Reviewer
½ November 21, 2012
Emotionally brutal documentary about the systemic failure of the military justice system to deal with the problem of rape in the ranks (of over 2,000 yearly allegations of sexual assault, only a little more than 25% of cases go to court martial, resulting in less than 200 convictions). Many women (and some men) are interviewed, but we mainly follow the story of a young Coast Guard recruit whose jaw was broken by her attacker as she tries to move on with her life and is refused medical assistance from the Veteran's Administration because she quit the service after being raped. Since the documentary was released, the Department of Defense has removed discretion to pursue sexual assault allegations from unit commanders, which was the main abuse the documentary highlighted.
Nate Z.
Super Reviewer
½ August 26, 2012
Kirby Dick is a documentary filmmaker known for picking fights with powerful institutions that operate in secrecy. In the Oscar-nominated Twist of Faith, he scrutinized the abuses of the Catholic Church covering up for sexual predators. In 2006's This Film is Not Yet Rated, he hunted down the then-unknown members of the MPAA ratings board and delivered an overwhelming critique of their ratings hypocrisies. With The Invisible War, Dick has taken on a subject that's even more powerful. The Invisible War, which won some awards at the Sundance film festival, examines the rampant numbers of sexual assaults and rape within the military. Through extensive, emotionally draining interviews and enraging statistics, Dick shows that most of the victims, when courageous enough to report their abuse, are met with skepticism, contempt, and injustice. One interview subject says that being raped isn't what makes her angry the most: "It's the commanders that were complicit in covering up everything that happened." This is a shocking, sobering, and eye-opening documentary that deserves to be seen by every American. You owe it to the brave men and women who serve this country, to see this movie. The ugly truth needs to come out and be finally dealt with.

The upsetting statistics of sexual abuse within the military come from the Department of Defense, not an advocacy group, but our own government. Here are some of the most devastating stats:

-20 percent of all women in the military have been sexually assaulted and/or raped while serving.

-Women are twice as likely to be raped in the military rather than outside it.

-Military sexual assault/rape victims have a higher rate of PTSD than soldiers who have fought in combat.

This is a profoundly revolting, morally repugnant, and infuriating story presented with damning testimonials clear-eyed logic. When I left the theater, I was radiating unquenchable fury. You could have harnessed my rage as an alternative resource. A lot of people blithely say they support the troops but we as a nation are letting these brave men and women down. The system is letting these people down, protecting rapists, training them to be better rapists, and then setting them loose upon the civilian population to continue their heinous crimes (it's estimated the average sexual predator commits 300 acts in his or her lifetime). Listening to these heartbreaking stories can be grueling, but it is vital to listen. The women speak with such candor and bravery, befitting those ready to lay down their lives out of service for this country. But lest you believe this is merely a "women's issue," the film has a few interviews with male victims as well. With men outnumbering women six to one in the military, men are the majority of the victims of sexual abuse, a fact I doubt many would have known. As the experts attest, for an organization that rewards machismo, the shame for men can be compounded by the rampant homophobia within the American military culture.

It's sadly understandable that so many of the interview subjects contemplated or attempted suicide. "Suicide or AWOL, those are your only two real options," a military investigator laments. According to TIME's investigative report, one Iraq and/or Afghanistan veteran commits suicide every day in America. Now remember that stat above concerning PTSD, and think about what the suicide rate must be like for victims of sexual abuse. One military man, husband to a rape victim, breaks down in sobs recounting his phone call for help while he tried to stop his wife from taking her own life. Watching proud, grown men break down into tears when they try and make sense of their institution harming their wives or daughters, it's heartbreaking all its own. These veterans would not advise any woman to consider a career in the military, not when this is the sorry state of justice.

These victims were often handled with apathetic, callous, or downright hostile behavior, often being blamed for being attacked. These victims risked their careers to report their abuses, expecting some semblance of justice, and many times they were simply ignored or punished for "making waves." One interview subject talks about how her commanding officer related that he had heard about three rape accusations that week and incredulously asked if the women were all in cahoots. One woman was raped and then charged with adultery; she wasn't married but her rapist was, though he was never brought up on charges. Dick's documentary lays a clear argument that giving the commanding officers, people often without any legal training whatsoever, the power to prosecute cases leads to plenty of ignored abuses. In 2010, the military reported 3,158 reports of sexual abuse (remember that 80 percent of cases generally go unreported), but only one-sixth of those cases lead to a court martial and only 175 of the assailants served jail time. And when they do serve jail time, it's often knocked down to mere weeks. That way, the convicted serviceman doesn't get charged with a felony. This also means when they leave the military, the convicted sexual offender does not have to register with a national sex offender database. When investigations do arise, they are routinely stonewalled.

What emerges from this inflammatory documentary is that the command's response wasn't to protect the victims but to protect the accused, time and again. These commanders are supposed to be objective and impartial arbitrators, but this is hardly the case. It's all about saving face, and a commander looks bad when he has a rapist in his unit, so rather than expel and punish the rapist, the military often drops the case and punishes the victim. Sometimes the commanding officer the victims are supposed to report the abuse to was in fact the perpetrator. In those instances, the victims have no possible path to justice. Major General Mary Kay Kellogg, Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (DOSAPRO), said victims could appeal to the Defense Department's Attorney General, hence going over their commander's head. Except that of the almost 3,000 cases sent to the DOD AG, not a single case was ever prosecuted. Kellogg also absurdly suggests that victims petition their Congressman. Just imagine a civilian being raped and told, "Better ask your Congressman if you want justice."

The response to the systemic abuses has been ineffectual. The military response was to raise awareness, not sift out rapists from the ranks and protect their own soldiers from sexual predators. The ad campaign to raise awareness is jaw-dropping, with slogans like, "Wait til she's sober," and a horrendously ear-splitting rap song about sexual assault prevention. It's so bad you can almost feel the seething resentment of the military. There's also an informative video with a dramatization of a woman, fleeing helplessly after a man tries to touch her (the fact that this dramatization makes the woman look silly is intentional, me thinks). This woman runs into another serviceman who admonishes her, "Where's your buddy?" The implication is that women should know that they can be raped at any time unless accompanied by a buddy. Does this not imply that every man in the military is capable of rape at the drop of a hat? And what if that buddy ends up being your rapist? The military builds a greater sense of camaraderie, and the men and women in uniform feel like a family. As one interview subject notes, when one soldier rapes another, it is akin to a crime of incest, a betrayal of that family. One victim was told she brought on the sexual harassment because of what she was wearing... which just happened to be her military uniform.

Dick's film is obviously advocating a very specific side, but who cares about the idea of presenting balance given the subject? The Department of Defense spokespersons and their rote, officious responses are edited for some major points of baffled, incredulous laughter, as we contrast their company line with the testimonials of the men and women they failed to protect. Again, I return to the notion that not every story has two sides. What exactly is the other side in this epidemic of abuses? What possibly could the merits of the other side be, the status quo? This is not just some anti-military screed. In fact, many of the participants speak so highly of the ideals of the military, the duty to serve, and their genuine feelings of belonging to these hallowed institutions. This makes their disillusionment all the more distressing. Almost every interview subject has a military background, some discharged and some retired, and the movie presents its claims with clear, level evidence. The testimonials are so damming, the abuses so clearly documented, the obfuscation from justice so repeatedly maintained, that I cannot even fathom a second side to this story. When it comes to sexual assault, there is only one side to this issue.

Dick also doesn't overplay the obvious emotional appeals in the film. There is plenty, but he doesn't sensationalize the drama or amplify the emotions in a self-serving manner. Instead, the film looks to clearly examine a systematic problem. Rather than deal only with potent outrage, Dick's film is also a call to action with some strong ideas on how to better protect the victims of sexual abuses. Set up an independent system of justice outside of the commanders' control, and work on preventing rapists from joining the military rather than cutting down the possibilities of how women can be raped. How about we punish the guilty party?

Last year, a group of veterans who had been sexually abused, initiated a class-action lawsuit against the military. This suit was dismissed by the court because, in their words, rape was an "occupational hazard of military service." Reread that sentence again. Let it sink in. Now ask yourself is that at all acceptable given the values we profess for our country? The culture within the military is simply that rape and sexual abuses are just not that big of a deal (a Congresswoman admits that the Defense AG told her they have "other, higher priorities" to worry about), and so it all continues. The implication is that for the military to function, you're going to have to excuse some excess, that excess being an estimated 30,000 sexual assaults a year. I'd like the military brass to explain to me what number would be unacceptable. How prevalent do these abuses need to be before proper action is taken, and not some facile PR, face-saving empty gesture, but something real? To me, one rape is one too many.

Dick's excoriating advocacy documentary is powerful, furious, but sensitive to the victims and their horrifying ordeals. It declares that we can and should do better. In April, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched The Invisible War and two days later made some changes. He took the decision to prosecute away from the commanders. It's a start, but there's a long way to go to fixing the military's patronizing view of women. The movie opens with a series of advertisements targeted at women through the years, and the treatment is astoundingly patronizing and the film's only spot of bleak humor. At one point, one of the victims asks if she and her fellow victims hypothetically deserve purple hearts for being wounded in battle too. "We're never going to get anything," another replies. These victims deserve recognition and justice, which has long been denied them. You won't see a more challenging, infuriating, and compelling documentary of this year. It's hard to watch at many points, and I cried at five separate occasions, but this is a movie that needs to be watched. I invite all readers to visit the Not Invisible site and consider joining the advocacy of this noble cause. You say you support the troops? Prove it.

Nate's Grade: A
Super Reviewer
November 30, 2013
While perhaps prone to speculation, "The Invisible War" is still a chilling and heartbreaking documentary about the epidemic of sexual assault, committed against both men and women, in the military. This information, gathered from government sources, is alternated with the ads the military uses to attract young female recruits, like the Air Force one I watched yesterday at the multiplex. Ironically, the armed forces seem less interested in prosecution and therefore deterrence than in haphazard prevention protocols, thus making it easier for sexual predators to thrive, not unlike sexual abusers in the Catholic Church. Part of that has to do with the lackadaisical way that rape is prosecuted through the chain of command which Senator Gillibrand is fighting to change by moving it to judge advocates instead.

What "The Invisible War" does extremely well is putting a human face on these cases, a good deal of them legacy recruits, as these brave women and one man talk not only about the heinous crime itself but the aftermath, as they have twice the occurrence of PTSD than combat veterans and contemplate suicide. That's not to mention having to jump through the hurdles of the bureaucratic Veterans Administration.
Super Reviewer
October 15, 2012
A straight-forward documentary, "The Invisible War" combines interviews with Congressional footage and stock footage to produce an average, albeit important look at the emotional and physical trauma produced by rape in our Armed Forces and the almost zero response from diplomatic and higher end officials in the military. Delivering a wealth of knowledge on the subject through testimonials and title cards, there is really no innovation to the documentary through this film, aiming to solely educate rather than entertain, which works, but does this film little favor in reaching a wider audience.
Super Reviewer
½ November 17, 2012
2012 Kirby Dick documentary "The Invisible War" speaks of sextual assault and rape in the US military that's been going on for over two decades. The strongest part of this film is that it has two ways to represent its views. First they have tons, and I mean tons, of victims telling there stories. This brought a personal touch, and showed how there lives were affected. Then they simultaneously show the truly shocking statistics, with proof for all of them. This part makes you frustrated at the higher ups, while your still mad at the criminal. I surely didn't know any of this stuff coming in, it was informative, and had a view military officials to show there side. Made me frustrated, I hope this gets nominated for an Oscar of best doc
Super Reviewer
June 21, 2012
Kirby Dick isn't known for his subtlety or fair representation of all opinions in documentaries he's directed, but for this material his heavy handed approach is appropriate. The women and men who have come forward about this and have allowed their faces, names, and candid stories to be put out in the open possess a bravery greater than I've ever seen. Its an hour and a half that is designed to enrage you, but it should . . . I don't see how it couldn't.
Super Reviewer
February 3, 2013
A shocking, moving, important documentary.
March 24, 2013
One of the most emotional documentaries I've ever watched. Can only hope more people watch it and educate others.
March 15, 2013
My candidate for best documentary of the year. Kirby Dick is a master documentary storyteller. He goes from the specific (the testimonials and emotional sharing of stories by victims) to social (the real story) and then goes for the kill (the institutions and people who run them who refuse to address the issue or give justice). A model muckracking film.
February 26, 2013
Emotionally brutal and honest documentary that shows the horrors of the war against women in the military. It shows that the battle is not only abroad, but is at home thanks to the protocol for dealing with women who've been raped by their fellow soldiers while enlisted. This film is a great battle cry for change, but I fear that it is still going to fall on the deaf ears of those in charge.
January 18, 2013
Unlike "How to Survive a Plague," this documentary makes no illusions that rape in the military is an ongoing problem, which can make this movie difficult to watch. It details a series of victims and the struggles they've had with getting the military to even acknowledge their attacks, let alone punish their attackers or provide medical treatment, and the official policies that make it difficult to do so. The main problem I see with this movie is that the filmmakers practically admit that some of their statistics are speculative (i.e., pulled out of thin air) and it relies very heavily on anecdotes, which while great for dramatic effect, doesn't help their cause due to a lack of hard data. It's something that detractors could latch onto, which is a real shame. This documentary is current and relevant, but also fundamentally flawed.
January 28, 2013
A well presented piece that exposes a very corrupt process (or lack thereof) in the U.S. military. It should win at the 85th Academy Awards. Hopefully the reaction to the documentary will impact change in the system.
January 22, 2013
This is an incredibly powerful documentary. I am absolutely disgusted with the way these women are treated by their fellow servicemen and the system. I was basically seething with rage throughout the entire film. I highly suggest that EVERYONE watch this. The film is nominated for best documentary at the Academy Awards this year and I sincerely hope it wins.
January 15, 2013
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