In a usual time, a here-and-then-gone documentary like Brothers in Arms would not, perhaps, be reviewed in EW. But these are not usual times. This unexceptional, bare-bones nonfiction film by Paul Alexander, a print journalist making his directorial debut, is subtitled ”The Story of the Crew of Patrol Craft Fast 94” – the last swift boat commanded by one Lieut. John Kerry in Vietnam in 1969. The film is a direct, if unstated, response to the charges leveled against the Democratic presidential candidate by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
That the men interviewed in ”Brothers in Arms” actually served directly under Kerry (as opposed to most of the SBVFT contingent, who didn’t) is worth noting for citizens interested in determining the facts. But what’s equally noteworthy, in the realm of form rather than content, is how neurologically comfortable the documentary style has become – so familiar that the viewer’s burden to distinguish truth not only from falsehood but also from spin has never been heavier, or more easily jostled. The five middle-aged veterans who speak here about the past do so in sincere Ken Burnsian close-ups lit against neutral darkness. Then come the archival clips, the establishing news footage, the atmospheric music: The vets tell the truth, by any reasonable measure, and then the filmmaker stirs the elements as filmmakers always do, whether partisan or neutral. As sure as ”Fahrenheit 9/11” is a political ad posing as a documentary, ”Brothers in Arms” is a documentary useful as a political ad.