''A Company of Soldiers," a 90-minute ''
The documentary follows the 100 soldiers of Dog Company in November, three days after a US-led offensive was launched in Fallujah to disperse insurgents who had continued to defy the US military from the restive Sunni Triangle. The fighting led to an outbreak of insurgent attacks in South Baghdad, about 40 miles away, where Dog Company faced mortar attacks on its base, as well as a cluster of ambushes while on patrol.
The ''Frontline" team does a superb job of capturing the perils of soldiering in Iraq, even as the usually cool demeanor of the men in Dog Company belies the life-and-death nature of their day-to-day existence. The viewer is reminded that these soldiers are ordinary Americans -- boys, even -- who have been thrust into a role as Kevlar-clad instruments of US foreign policy.
The cameras eavesdrop on casual conversations among the soldiers, record their reactions as they are attacked in the dark, and show the tears of the men as they recall a comrade who has been killed by a sniper.
This is reality TV with a point. As such, explicit language occasionally is used as the men express gut reactions to extreme stress. At one point, an Iraqi dog is shot by an Army medic, to the disgust of several members of the company.
The narration is characteristically understated, which lets the images and words of Dog Company paint a picture of an army at war against a mercurial enemy. Although the soldiers occasionally appear to play to the camera with stock phrases lifted from the Pentagon's public-affairs office, the overall portrait appears to be unflinchingly accurate -- from the support for the US mission in Iraq that some soldiers voice, to the fears they acknowledge in private, to the courage they demonstrate under attack.
''Every time you roll out, there's something to worry about." one soldier says. While ''Frontline" followed Dog Company, the work of building schools, repairing roads, and restoring basic services had largely been replaced by self-defense.
More striking than most media accounts of the war, a segment that shows the company under fire on a dark Baghdad road illustrates the dangers and confusion of combat. Suddenly small-arms rounds and rocket-propelled grenades pepper the Humvees. The soldiers have an instant to locate the enemy and defend themselves in an unfamiliar environment.
One member of Dog Company reports that his vehicle has taken ''collateral damage" during the fight. Another soldier asks if the damage had come from friendly fire. ''I don't know," the first soldier responds. Such is the fog of urban-guerrilla warfare.
In one sequence, the human results of ''collateral damage" are shown in bloody detail. Lying mortally wounded on the rear seat of a vehicle caught in the crossfire, a noncombatant Iraqi slips toward death after being struck by a ricochet. In a battle with the unseen, as this image shows, not even the innocent are safe.
Dispassionate, compelling, and unblinking, ''A Company of Soldiers" is an important contribution to understanding the danger and complexities that confront the ordinary soldier in Iraq.