STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE — ** 1/2 — Documentary feature about Abu Ghraib prison abuses; rated R (torture, nudity, profanity, violence, vulgarity, sex, gore, brief drugs, slurs)

It's possible that, as good as parts of it is, the horrifying documentary feature "Standard Operating Procedure" just might be too effective for its own good.

Hearing nearly two hours' worth of fairly graphic descriptions of torture and other abuses of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq becomes a grueling experience.

But as hard as that is to stomach, it's almost tougher still to hear soldiers from the U.S. Army's Military Police Brigade offering sorry excuses for what they did and trying to point fingers at others.

Among those who were interviewed for the film are former military police soldier Lynndie England, who became the much-publicized "face" of the Abu Ghraib abuses, because she was seen in several of the incriminating photos that emerged.

Here she alleges that those photos paint an inaccurate picture of her actions and that she was manipulated by her former lover, another former MP named Charles Graner. (He is still serving time in prison for his actions and was not interviewed for the movie.)

As with most of his films, multiple-award-winning producer/director Errol Morris fills this one with talking-head interviews and odd re-creations of some of the sequences that are being discussed.

And as powerful as selected moments in the film are, it's not one of Morris' better works. Also, by having such a narrow focus, the story feels less complete than the like-minded documentaries "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" and "Taxi to the Dark Side," this year's Oscar-winning documentary feature.

One thing of interest is Danny Elfman's score, which is a constant presence. He changed his recognizable style and tries to emulate Philip Glass, who scored a few of Morris' other movies as well.

"Standard Operating Procedure" is rated R for strong, often disturbing images of torture and violent prison abuses (including some sexually degrading incidents), full male nudity, strong sexual language (profanity, crude slang, and frank sexual and other talk), sexually suggestive photos, some gory and bloody images, brief drug references, and racial and other derogatory slurs. Running time: 113 minutes.


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