In a documentary ripe with stunning statistics and powerful interviews on the state of serving in the United States military, the most damning piece of information provided in the entire picture is written on one of the film’s many title cards; rape is considered an occupational hazard. But it’s positioning in The Invisible War makes sense, given that the audience has been exposed to select testimonials from those who served for America, only to become victims of sexual assault and rape. But as Kirby Dick navigates through the bureaucracy of the United States military, the audience is introduced to the larger framework that works against the victims. The picture’s thesis on what propagates such misconduct is rooted in the indifference displayed by the male hegemony behind the military – often times, superior officers possess jurisdiction over rape charges. And most alarmingly, these officers are also the perpetrators of such assault.
Dick wisely compares the military’s judicial system with that of the Catholic Church. Both organizations operate within their own enclosed systems whereupon criminality is judged by a different rule of thumb. Many of the testimonials in The Invisible War address the prevailing notion that any rape allegations are viewed through a lens of skepticism. This is compounded with the military’s transparent adherence to a “blame the victim” perspective that somehow justifies rape as a result of the victim’s perceived demeanor. In one of the film’s more befuddling moments, government attempts to address sexual misconduct in the military resulted in a series of videos that stressed the importance of walking through military bases with a fellow cadet. When the woman in the video narrowly avoids a potential attacker, it’s not the attacker who is scrutinized, but it’s the female cadet who is demonized for walking out alone. That is justified as a response to rape.
While a compelling subject that Dick investigates, he maintains a fairly distant hand in the proceedings. Much like This Film Is Not Yet Rated, this is an effort grounded more in its interesting subject matter than its presentation. It’s a picture that suffers a bit for its lack of finesse and presence. Another director with a more delicate hand could have elevated the material. Dick’s reliance on intercutting title cards within interviews subverts the emotional punch he’s looking for. Dick obviously has a sense of subject and possesses sharp instincts as a writer, but he’s just not a terribly interesting filmmaker – subscribing to so many stale documentary tropes almost does the material a disservice.