The end of this German-produced documentary informs us that Hollywood bought the rights to the life story of this Marine corporal, killed by friendly fire on the first day of the Iraq war, yet it's hard to see how anything uplifting could be made from his 28 years of hardship. Born into Guatemalan poverty, the glue-sniffing street kid was briefly sheltered in a well-run orphanage (whose director here recalls the cheerful lad), then traveled 2,000 miles alone, riding the rails on Mexico's notorious "Tren de la Muerte" to the U.S. border. Crossing over at age 22, he passed for 16, being so small and malnourished and suffering from TB. After foster care and high school, he decided the Marine Corps was his ticket to citizenship (thanks to a 2000 act of Congress) and became a so-called "Green Card Soldier," one of more than 30,000 in the military today. A few letters to his sister and family photos are the only direct evidence of Gutierrez's words and face. Director Heidi Specogna adds interviews and contemporary scenes from Guatemala to The Short Life, but her subject sadly never comes to life. Specogna follows tangents into Guatemala's decades-old civil war instead of pressing for details about our current war. You're left marveling at Gutierrez's determination, though it's hard to mourn such an enigma.
Gutierrez as boy and Marine.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., March 30–Thurs., April 5. Not rated. 89 minutes.