Thank You for Bombing shows war reporting from the journalists’ points of view. Ewald (Erwin Steinhauer) is a seasoned war reporter but hasn’t been working in the field for a while due to anxiety. But then his editor decides to send him to Afghanistan, against his protests. On his way there on the airport in Vienna, Ewald is convinced to have discovered a war criminal from the war in Bosnia. Meanwhile in Afghanistan, Lana (Manon Kahle) is fighting to get a good story to report and to not be relegated to the sidelines constantly. She, too, takes up her own investigation. Cal (Raphael von Bargen), on the other hand, is bored by the organized reporting he gets to do in Afghanistan and drowns his boredom in alcohol.
Thank You for Bombing starts off strong and then gets increasingly weaker. In the end it just kinda fizzles out where it tries to go out with a bang.
The three episodes in Thank You for Bombing are interconnected but only barely so. Mostly they are tied together by the topic and the location. I wouldn’t have minded if there was a little more interaction between the three parts, especially because it points to a bigger problem in the film: there’s a disconnect between the three stories that isn’t actually necessary. All three revolve around journalists struggling with being war correspondents and with the traumatic experiences that their job entails. While they all struggle differently, arguably that’s because they are at different points in their careers: Lana is just starting the process of traumatization, Cal is on his way out, on a tipping point and Edwin is suffering from PTSD. In the end all three of them are destroyed on some level by their profession.
That is an interesting point to make, especially because Eder embeds it in images of mass-produced news. Edwin’s editor sends him to Afghanistan as the one thousand and first reporter because that stuff sells. Cal is taken on a specially organized press tour where all news outlets are fed the news of the day, the same – clearly scripted – interview with the same family. Lana is one of many correspondents standing in a row reporting the same story at the same time. The camera pans over the hotel where all the journalists are staying and we can see that there is one standing on each balcony in the same position, sending off the same news to their respective channel. When all the reporting is the same, it makes the constant traumatization of all those journalists even more questionable.
That is all interesting material for a discussion and for a film, but somehow Eder manages to sideline her own movie’s most interesting bits by narratives that always go that one step too far to remain believable. The strongest segment is certainly the first revolving around Edwin. Here the film is tense, Steinhauer’s performance is masterful and I was at the edge of the seat. When we leave the segment, I didn’t want it to be over – but when it’s later connected to the others, it’s overdone. Lana’s segment runs too long and quickly runs out of steam, despite the fact that they kept dialing up the pressure for her. And I pretty much hated Cal, so his segment was very much doomed but then it ends in pretty much the only Afghan to have any personal significance in the film dying so Cal can have an epiphany and that’s just no good at all.
Despite the probably well-researched and certainly well-intentioned thinking behind the film, in the end it just didn’t manage to be successful as a film. I certainly left less than enthusiastic about it.