Metascore
70

Generally favorable reviews - based on 31 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 23 out of 31
  2. Negative: 0 out of 31
  1. 100
    Disturbing, analytical and morose. This is not a "political" film nor yet another screed about the Bush administration or the war in Iraq. It is driven simply, powerfully, by the desire to understand those photographs.
  2. Morris challenges us to understand what the pictures show and what they don't show, and to see them in context. And he confronts us with the most important question surrounding them: Do they reveal a crime, an aberration in the system or standard operating procedure?
  3. 100
    With Standard Operating Procedure, the Iraq War finally has its Hearts And Minds.
  4. Morris, using a welter of photographs (many of which we haven't seen), constructs a day-to-day sense of how Abu Ghraib descended into a medieval hell.
  5. 91
    Standard Operating Procedure says that human nature abhors moral vacuums - but sometimes humans get sucked into them.
  6. At this late date there is little that is factually revelatory about his film, but as a human document of what people are capable of in wartime, it's indispensable.
  7. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    88
    No matter how slick and questionably appropriate Morris's style may be, the content is compelling.
  8. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    88
    It may be the most disturbing film you'll see in a long time.
  9. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    88
    In Standard Operating Procedure, Errol Morris does something inconceivable and, at first glance, ill-advised. He gives the US soldiers of Abu Ghraib back their humanity.
  10. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    88
    It's distinctly Morrisean, as it were, and seeing his style applied to subject matter with which one is already somewhat familiar makes one... well, question the style a bit.
  11. Reviewed by: Don R. Lewis
    80
    Not only does Standard Operating Procedure look closely at visual evidence and it's true meaning, it also strives to question the validity of any given photo and, digging deeper still, the meta meaning of a photographic image.
  12. Focus is really the heart of Morris' unsettling film, which strikes a remarkable balance between art and disturbance, between beauty and pain.
  13. 80
    Morris argues that the photos also functioned as a cover-up: prosecution of the case centered on them, leaving free and clear many of those higher up the chain of command.
  14. 75
    It also leaves you pondering what you would have done if you had been one of the soldiers stationed there, fighting in an increasingly loony and surreal war. There but for the grace of God, and all that.
  15. In presenting their testimony to the jury of public opinion, Morris would seem to be building a case for absolving some of them of mistreatment charges and implicitly asking for an investigation of those who were not charged.
  16. Reveals one mystery, only to reveal another that it can't quite penetrate.
  17. The ethical fallout, the lingering fog of the so-called war on terror, is not that people don't know what's wrong or who's guilty - it's precisely that they do, and count it as the cost of doing business.
  18. 75
    Just because others bear blame for what went on doesn't mean they bore none, and while the deal they got was raw, they never lacked the ability to say no.
  19. 70
    While this does not strike me as the most urgent element of Standard Operating Procedure, Morris makes a persuasive case that many of the Abu Ghraib photos don't show us what we think they do, and that some of the episodes depicted were staged specifically to be photographed (and might not otherwise have occurred).
  20. A big, provocative and -- it goes without saying -- disturbing work, though what makes it most provocative is that its greatest ambitions are for its own visual style.
  21. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    70
    While Morris isn't interested in exonerating anyone, he clearly sympathizes to some degree with the MPs and deplores the military's fall-guy strategy, which punished these seven soldiers as exemplary "bad apples" while leaving all higher-ranking officers untouched.
  22. These people manage to convince us that the events at Abu Ghraib were standard operating procedure and not aberrant activities. Therein lies the horror of the movie – and also its banality.
  23. It's gut-grinding, to be sure. But a misjudged degree of cinematic dazzle obscures the outrages at the core of Standard Operating Procedure.
  24. Morris mixes piercing sit-downs with disturbing evidence. Though soldiers, including the notorious Lynndie England, express remorse, it's haunting to hear how several prisoners were "nice guys" or known to be innocent, yet no connection is made between those remarks and the images of torture.
  25. I’m not sure Morris clinches his case, but I’m not sure he wants to: His aim is to throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of our perception.
  26. 50
    By the end, we wind up pretty much where we were four years ago when the pictures first appeared in the papers: Inexperienced troops did disgusting things, but it's a mystery who else knew.
  27. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    50
    Morris's manner of relating this story is very often quite inappropriate to its substance. It is a sordid and appalling tale and what it demands is almost an anti-style -- rough, crude, grim, technically poor imagery unrelieved by sleek, slick fancy work. If you are going to rub our noses in this ugliness, you must not let up until, perhaps, we have learned our lesson.
  28. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    50
    Adds relatively little insight to the public understanding of wayward military behavior more incisively analyzed in "Taxi to the Dark Side."
  29. 40
    Since "The Thin Blue Line's" remarkable intervention, Morris's work has grown more public and more problematic--lofty yet snide, a form of know-it-all epistemological inquiry.
  30. If the movie is meant to uncover any "big scandals," it's a disappointment. The investigator, in one surprising sequence, goes through a number of alleged "torture" photos and acknowledges that the vast majority of them represent "standard operating procedure." That is supposed to be the film's kicker: not what was illegal but how much was legal.

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