FREE BURMA RANGERS: 9.4 at IMDb (say no more)
* * * * (out of four)
In approximately 20 years of using the Internet Movie Database, I’ve never seen a film get as high a user-rating as the fiercely compelling new documentary “Free Burma Rangers.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, great titles like “Psycho” and “Inception” usually score near 8.5 -- with the highest-rated classics like “The Godfather” topping out around 9.
“Free Burma Rangers” has a 9.4.
This frankly astounding doc takes its title from a Christian relief agency that has long provided food, medicine and combat training to more than 2.5 million IDPs -- “internally displaced persons.” At the same time, FBR has consistently called worldwide attention to brutal atrocities and human rights abuse in Burma, Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan.
But because these areas are so violently war-torn -- and because FBR records its forays on video -- this film doesn’t feel like a documentary; it’s more like an action movie.
Except it’s all real.
In 1997, American seminary graduate David Eubank took his new bride on a makeshift honeymoon to Burma, where he felt called to help victims of that country’s devastating civil war. Initially planning simply to deliver a modest shipment of medical supplies, Dave and Karen connected with a local man seeking help -- and suddenly they found themselves committed to a whole new life.
A 10-year veteran of U. S. Special Forces, Eubank began using his skills to bring aid directly into war zones, often taking his life in his hands -- while also training indigenous people in medicine, combat and relief.
What’s more, the Eubanks had three children while doing all this work, and the kids grew up doing it too.
Keeping their kids with them “was the craziest thing in the world to do,” Karen tells in an interviewer during this film -- which also shows the young trio helping, playing, swimming, driving, teaching, horseback-riding and speaking passionately about their work. They clearly had a childhood like few other American kids.
During FBR’s early days in Burma, Dave managed to connect with such global news services as Associated Press and the BBC, delivering up-to-the-minute, front-line reports that sometimes contradicted what governments were saying publicly.
In this way, FBR became not only a means of humanitarian aid, but also an arm for bringing pressure from the outside world -- particularly the United Nations.
After several years in Burma, the agency took its work into Iraq as well, where suffering locals were amazed that these FBR-trained teams had themselves come from an oppression-ravaged country.
Set in the rubble-strewn streets of Mosul, this final half-hour of the film is simply hair-raising: Eubank and his team dodge constant machine-gun fire from ISIS; rescue a few families only to see some blown to pieces by an ISIS-laid land mine; and cross a desolate stretch of hotly contested ground -- including a massive spread of noisy aluminum soda cans! -- to rescue wounded Iraqis hiding along a pock-marked wall.
In scenes like these, the heroically brave Eubank comes across as a mix of Daniel Craig, Eric Liddell and Paul the Apostle. Particularly stirring are his injunctions against vengeance, and his radical commitment to work with people of all faiths -- while also struggling to forgive wicked, vicious, homicidal enemies.
As if this subject matter weren’t enough, the film itself is brilliantly made. There are moments of real peace and beauty amid all the chaos -- moments of joy, interviews with all kinds of workers and genuinely heart-stopping combat scenes. Directors Brent Gudgel and Chris Sinclair spent seven years editing down more than 3,000 separate video clips -- 2,000 total hours of footage.
“Free Burma Rangers” is a bracing demonstration of the agency’s winsome six-part motto: “Love each other. Unite and work for freedom, justice, and peace. Forgive and don’t hate each other. Pray with faith, act with courage, never surrender.”
The film is currently available for streaming on Amazon, Vimeo and christiancinema.org. Its $20 tag may seem pricey, but believe me: It is worth every penny.
“Free Burma Rangers,”
directed by Brent Gudgel and Chris Sinclair
Run time: 105 min.
Not rated; several scenes of brief but strong wartime violence