CHICAGO - Gary Sinise fumes.
As we talk and tour Chicago’s National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, Sinise’s gravel-and-coffee-grounds growl picks up momentum and passion. At one point, he’s hard to interrupt to ask a question as his voice succumbs to infuriated frustration. Especially when talking about director Brian De Palma.
Listen: “He was out to get the troops, to depict them as child rapists. That’s the truth he wanted to tell. That’s one particular, horrible episode that happened by, clearly, some criminals who happen to be in the American military.”
But we’re jumping ahead of the conversation.
On this day Sinise is in Chicago promoting “Brothers at War.” He served as executive producer on the documentary, in which director Jake Rademacher follows two of his younger brothers, both soldiers, to their theaters of war in Iraq.
“This movie is not going to be your typical blood-and-guts, negative, depressing thing about Iraq,” Sinise says.
“What’s great about this film is there’s a personal investment, because the filmmaker is making it about his family.”
Sinise has picked the venue for our conversation. “We’ve got a little history here,” he tells me.
In 2003 it was here, on the third floor, that Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band first entertained troops. The band, a musical side project for the actor, is named for his most famous role, Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump.” Sinise has been doing USO tours in Iraq and fundraising events ever since, playing bass at 30-some dates a year, in addition to his gig as Mac Taylor in “CSI: New York.”
“I have a profound respect for people who serve,” Sinise says as we walk through an exhibit of Iraq photographs by female soldiers.
Sinise is polite, but forceful - he’s a vehement defender of the military, he says, with a point of view that often goes ignored.
“Brothers at War” represents a natural evolution in Sinise’s crusade to bring attention to the men and women in the armed forces.
The film also reflects a national trend, with more Iraq movies (“In the Valley of Elah,” “The Lucky Ones”) and documentaries (“The War Tapes,” “Gunner Palace”) being produced than during any other war.
“It’s unusual that there would be so many films about a current conflict,” Sinise says. “Quite often it’s in retrospect.”
But Sinise’s support of “Brothers at War” is also a response to many of those critical films, which Sinise considers “one-sided,” “depressing” and “disturbing.”
Sinise, who made a documentary for Fox News about his time in Iraq, was particularly infuriated by De Palma’s “Redacted,” an award-winning but divisive drama about soldiers who raped a young Iraqi girl.
“There are 150,000 people serving honorably, but Brian De Palma didn’t care to show those stories,” Sinise says.
His venom catches me off guard, not only because De Palma directed Sinise in both “Mission to Mars” and “Snake Eyes,” but also because Sinise says he never saw “Redacted.”
“I wouldn’t see that film. I knew he had a very political agenda with making that film to make the American military look really, really horrible,” he says.
“Brian De Palma hates the American military.”
A call to the office of De Palma’s agent for a response elicits this: “Mr. De Palma has no comment. Thanks.”
Sinise says he has never discussed “Redacted” with the filmmaker, but it doesn’t appear the two will be working together any time soon.
Sinise’s criticism didn’t stop there. “Brothers at War,” he says, is “not a journalist going out there looking for the story he’s trying to tell. There are many, many points of view and many sides. Unfortunately, you have to dig deep to find a balanced perspective.”
I suggest that the military may have credibility problems, especially after it twisted the otherwise heroic stories of former prisoner of war Pvt. Jessica Lynch and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was shot and killed by fellow soldiers. The military lied to the country and their families for public-relations purposes. “I don’t think the truth wins out in either case,” I say.
After a pause, Sinise says, “You’re right,” then counters: “And for every one of those, you have 50 other (positive) stories. Unfortunately, bad news sells. If two houses are standing there, and one of them is on fire, the reporter is going to write about the one that’s one fire - not the peaceful house that’s nicely painted.”
“Because that’s not news,” I offer. The news, in part, provides cautionary tales, such as how to keep your house from burning.
But we’re in a war where people are serving honorably, Sinise says. “Those stories need to be told.”
Here, he offers an example.
Sinise runs a charity with author Laura Hillenbrand (“Seabiscuit”) called Operation Iraqi Children (operationiraqichildren.org). Under the banner “Helping soldiers help children,” the program provides kids in Iraq with school supplies.
During one school visit, Sinise says: “The convoy leaves the school and gets attacked. Three Iraqi National Guardsmen get killed, bombs are going off ... bullets everywhere. The gunfight was on the air that night on the national news, but the reason for the convoy - the smiling children 15 minutes before the gunfight, the troops delivering supplies, helping the kids - none of that got reported. No mention of what the convoy was for. Humanitarian work by our troops. So we got half the story, didn’t we?”
Sinise says he’s also fighting the specter of Abu Ghraib, the photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.“That became the face of the American military in the media, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth, as a whole,” he says.
“There are people over there suffering and sacrificing and trying to do the right thing. Those people aren’t getting any attention in the movies and the media.”
That’s why he responded so strongly to “Brothers at War,” Sinise says.
“I think it will give people another perspective. To me, it makes me feel good about the people we have defending our country and the sacrifices of the military families. It makes me feel proud, and I’m proud to be a part of this film.”