INSIDE IRAQ: THE UNTOLD STORIES — *** — Documentary feature about the Iraq War; with English subtitles (for some Arabic dialects); not rated, probable R (violence, profanity, vulgarity, brief gore, ethnic slurs).

There are scenes in "Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories" where filmmaker Mike Shiley just needs to shut up and let others — or just the images themselves — do the talking.

Shiley, an "adventure traveler" who decided to make his own documentary about life in the Middle East during the Iraq War, is too chatty for his own good.

That can be forgiven, though, since he isn't a professional filmmaker, nor is he a professional journalist. And his extremely watchable documentary is one of the more balanced portraits of the war — if for no other reason than it shows what everyday life is like for Muslims and Iraqis since the U.S. invasion began.

Armed with a photocopied, semi-legitimate press pass, as well as a flak jacket and camera equipment, Shiley was able to capture some very compelling images and commentary from both sides.

For example, Shiley is shown accompanying a tank crew on its mission near the dangerous Syrian border. He also recorded well-wishes from Utah National Guard members serving in Iraq.

One of the best sequences practically fell into Shiley's lap. He was handed night-vision footage of U.S. sharpshooters as they observe and then "take out" some perceived threats. It's startling stuff.

Again, Shiley's chattiness can get a bit tiresome. And there are some amateurish moments, such as his seeming obsession with adult entertainment in Iraq.

But considering his relative lack of experience, the access he was able to get — and footage he was able to shoot — is incredible.

"Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories" is not rated but would probably receive an R for strong war violence and disturbing imagery (including shootings and explosive mayhem), strong sexual profanity, crude and sexually suggestive material, brief gore and ethnic slurs. Running time: 84 minutes.


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