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Fighting for Life

War doctor doc, staggeringly effective

Only as political as you want it to be, Fighting for Life excises context to focus on a single wartime relationship: that of soldiers getting broken into bits and the surgeons who stitch them together again. At Maryland's Uniformed Services University, would-be Clara Bartons follow a combat-specialized curriculum that's graduated a full quarter of current frontline practitioners. Meanwhile, America's overseas ventures feed broken bodies through a chain of hospitals, from the MASHs, in full mortar range, to Germany's Ramstein Air Base, then back home for reconstruction and rehab. Following the routing of casualties, one sees a full textbook of ways that the human body can be torn, blasted, or blistered by bullets and (far more frequently) IEDs. Director Terry Sanders's goal of comprehensiveness and some bad sequencing prevents the film from achieving the ringing purity of John Huston's postwar doc Let There Be Light. But Fighting's murky images of the maimed—soldiers, Iraqi and American; a five-year old, badly burned—are staggeringly affecting, so much so that returning to the USU campus is a diluting digression. Though in surer hands, the class's simulated mass-casualty situation, replete with ghoulish prosthetic wounds, might've been a masterpiece.

 
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