John Walter had been immersed in Brecht for two decades, and he wanted to make a film about the great German poet/playwright. When New York's Public Theatre announced its 2006 production of Mother Courage starring Meryl Streep, Walter saw his chance. But Theater of War is more about Streep and Mother Courage than it is about Brecht.
Like the play's war-profiteering survivalist hauling her wagon through the 30 Years War, Streep is a force of nature. And despite the actress's assertion that exposing "process" is akin to showing off a new building by displaying its plumbing. The opportunity to watch her in rehearsal is worth a thousand talking heads like Brecht colleague Carl Weber and novelist/prof Jay Cantor.
The documentary juxtaposes black-and-white stills from the landmark 1949 Berliner Ensemble Courage with rehearsal footage of the Public production (which received mixed reviews), throws in bits from the Marxist playwright's sly testimony before the HUAC, and shows us Public honcho Oskar Eustis and Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner, who provided the Public's irony-laced translation, cycling to work. But it's Streep's thespian plumbing that makes Theater of War worth watching.