Years from now, we’ll be able to trace the rise of the 21st-century mercenary back to the war in Iraq. This, assuming that years from now the war is actually over. For the subjects of director Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque’s fascinating, evenhanded documentary Shadow Company, about the big business of guns for hire, perpetual war is not necessarily a bad thing. There are 20,000 “private military contractors” — the current preferred euphemism — in Iraq, a fact that came to shocking light in 2004, when four of them were killed and mutilated by angry mobs in Fallujah. Who these men are and why they take such historically disreputable and dangerous (though highly paid) gigs is one of the bigger questions on Bicanic and Bourque’s agenda. Interviews with mercenaries, some of them seemingly quite nice guys, and flourishes of style — comic-book illustrations, video-game scenes and news footage swirled together in an Oliver Stone–esque mélange — give a flavor of the personalities involved. Academics and security experts fill in the historical and political context. As the nation-state wanes in the age of globalization, the mercenary of the Middle Ages has returned, backed this time by corporate managers, lobbyists and billions of dollars. The film suggests that this may not be such a disaster when private force is applied within constraints. Unfortunately, in the Wild West horror show that is Iraq, no one’s sure if there are any rules at all. (Grande 4-Plex)

—Paul Malcolm

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