After the Hollywood gloss of Rendition, Lion For Lambs and A Mighty Heart failed to capture the public’s mood for the War on Terror, a slew of inventive film makers have sought to explore the conflict, each with a unique documentary-style focus.
After the Hollywood gloss of Rendition, Lion For Lambs and A Mighty Heart failed to capture the public’s mood for the War on Terror, a slew of inventive film makers have sought to explore the conflict, each with a unique documentary-style focus. This week sees the release of Armadillo, a Danish perspective on the struggle in Afghanistan. What does it, and recent similar films have to say on the matter
Denmark’s Janus Metz follows a group of his country’s soldiers for six months as they risk their lives close to Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan. Awarded the Grand Prix de la Semaine at Cannes, there’s little doubt this study of soldier’s psyche under intense pressure is a riveting and often tense emotional drama.
Defining Scene: The Taliban shoot-out scene and aftermath provoked controversy back in Metz’s home country and is likely to do the same elsewhere.
War – good for? Eroding a soldier’s sense of duty, humanity and at times, morality.
Fifteen months in the life of a platoon in one of Afghanistan’s most deadly valleys gave both Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington the chance to live and explore the effect of such a long mission on the lives and minds of a group of American soldiers (The titular soldier Restrepo kicks off the film) by doing nearly everything but fire weapons with them, side by side.
Defining Scene: The sight of an American marine, as if in a video game, shouting “Come Get Some!” while firing off will stick with many.
War – good for? Toughening up the man-inside-the-soldier’s outer shell and then watching him crumble with a sense of futility.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Kathryn Bigalow’s multi award-winning film may be the best known of the War on Terror crop but it certainly wasn’t the first to use a documentary-style approach. Here, disguised within a drama it gets its point across by focusing on a bomb-disposal crew in Iraq which gave the film, like the soldiers themselves, a singular purpose; one it executed with an unbearable tension and precision.
Defining Scene: The film’s opening, with its slow-motion explosion set the tone for what was to come.
War – good for? Doing a difficult job, and doing it well.
No End In Sight (2007)
This year’s excellent recession documentary Inside Job proved director Charles Ferguson was no one trick pony with this, his debut feature. Rather than look at the effect on soldiers in action, Ferguson’s dissection of the Iraq war, its motivations and strategy showed just how insufficient and ineffective the plans we did have were. Those involved at the time tell the story with a sad sense of disillusionment.
Defining Scene: Footage of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a press conference joking about the gravity of the situation won’t be getting him a slot on the stand-up circuit for sure.
War – good for? Nothing, if you don’t have a plan for what follows after.
Taxi To The Dark Side (2007)
With the case of an innocent Afghan taxi driver tortured to death in 2002 as its backdrop, Alex Gibney explores the US policy on torture with graphic examples from Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Questioning the effect of his country’s pursuit for security at any cost, Gibney uncovers some shocking practices that pour scorn on America’s belief to be a moral nation.
Defining Scene: Take your pick. From the testimony of those believing barbarism is warranted to the graphic images and news reels on display there’s plenty to shock you here.
War – good for? Nothing if we can’t identify the real enemy in the first place.
The War Tapes (2006)
In a clever twist on the documentary style, director Deborah Scranton gave three National Guard soldiers called up for service in Iraq a video camera each to film their experiences. The result is the sort of front line reporting news crews could only dream of as soldiers confide their deepest fears to their fellow man.
Defining Scene: An incident in which an Iraqi civilian is killed at night, run over by the crew’s truck, brings the fragility of the situation home hard.
War – good for? Showing just what a day in the life of a soldier is really like at times when stripped down – anyone else’s.
The Ground Truth (2006)
One of the first documentaries on the War on Terror, The Ground Truth gave director Patricia Foulkrod the chance to explore the process new recruits go through before they see action and then return from it. Using the front line as a background experience, Foulkrod shows how idealism wanes and the ravages of war affects those returning home from duty with memories they find hard to shake.
Defining Scene: Fitting well with the film’s tagline “The First Casualty of War is Innocence”, the deadness in these recruits eyes as they tell their stories in the film’s second half contrasts vividly with the hope they boarded the plane out with in the first.
War – good for? Creating true heroes out of everyday people.