'Saving Jessica Lynch' reveals Arab hero

Friday, November 7, 2003

— A pretty U.S. soldier captured while serving her country in the Iraq war. A daring rescue. One happy ending in a conflict that is far from resolved.

The decision to make a TV movie about Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch seems like a slam dunk, part of Hollywood's long-standing fascination with ripped-from-the-war stories and warriors.

But NBC's "Saving Jessica Lynch" turns out to be distinctive because it's less about Lynch than about the Iraqi man credited with helping the U.S. military find and retrieve her.

In this stereotype-busting saga (8 p.m. Sunday), the soldier is the hapless victim and an Arab -- a lawyer, to boot -- is the hero.

Unable to secure rights to Lynch's story, producer Dan Paulson relied on Mohammed al-Rehaief's newly published book, "Because Each Life Is Precious," about the rescue and his role in it.

"We have our first war movie from Iraq and it's not about the heroism of our soldiers -- who have actually displayed a great deal of heroism under incredibly trying circumstances -- but it's about the heroism of an Iraqi man," said social critic Neal Gabler.

"This is a kind of odd propaganda pitch by the American military," said Gabler, author of "Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality."

But the producer says "Saving Jessica Lynch," which he calls as faithful a depiction of events as possible, is not intended as an anti- or pro-war movie. The Department of Defense cooperated in the project but had no script control, Paulson said.

"We took great pains, forgive me for a tired phrase, for being fair and balanced. We really wanted to tell the story," Paulson said.

Questions have been raised about the drama's accuracy, especially in light of conflicting accounts of Lynch's rescue and claims that the Pentagon hyped her story for maximum public relations value.

Lynch's forthcoming authorized biography, "I am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story," reportedly casts doubt on al-Rehaief's claims. According to ABC's Diane Sawyer, who interviewed Lynch, she has no memory of him at the hospital. (The book, which will be published Tuesday, also says Lynch was raped by her Iraqi captors.)

There is some skepticism as well about the timing of the feel-good movie, airing as U.S. casualties in Iraq continue to mount.

It's not entirely flattering to the military. The drama shows miscalculations and errors, including a wrong turn that led Army supply clerk Lynch and her 507th Maintenance Company convoy into an ambush in southern Iraq.

But it's courage that "Saving Jessica Lynch" stresses -- the fortitude of Lynch, even as she's lying in pain and under guard and, most of all, al-Rehaief.