Bravo Two Zero (1999) British SAS Patrol Behind Enemy Lines

Bravo Two Zero based on Andy McNab’s true account tells the story of a SAS mission that goes awfully wrong. The mission took place during the first Gulf war. McNab is the leader of a small special unit, mainly British and Australian SAS. They are dropped behind enemy lines where they should cut communication lines and take out scud missiles. In the event of their capture they should pretend to be part of a rescue team.

The mission goes wrong from the start as they are spotted by shepherds and their transmission system (their code word  is Bravo Two Zero) doesn’t work. The only thing they can do is try to get to the Syrian border. The way leads them through enemy territory swarming with tanks and trucks, night temperatures dropping below zero and blizzard-like weather during the day. It seems impossibly hard to achieve. The small group has to face many combat situations where they are outnumbered but being far better trained and with better equipment they are not overpowered.

They advance slowly fighting not only enemies but hypothermia and end up separated. They are captured one by one. McNab thinks at first he is the only who has been captured but two of the others are held captive in the same place, one of them is his best friend. The Iraqis think that they are Israelis and torture and beat them up to get a confession. One would presume this would subside once it is apparent that they are British but the cruelties are intensified. The three men are in extremely bad shape, loosing their teeth, bruised and batered but they survive and ultimately get to tell the tale.

The end is somewhat questionable. We hear McNab’s voice in the off making fun of those who suffer from post-traumatic stress. He states that he is a soldier and he likes to be a soldier. What happened was part of the job. There is no place for post-traumatic stress. There is nothing he wouldn’t do again and he thinks that the enemies only did their job as well, they only seemed to have liked it a bit too much.

This is a fast-paced, action-packed movie. Gripping and I think very accurate and honest. How often do we see missions that go completely wrong? But it is certainly not an anti-war statement. On the very contrary.  Sean Bean is very good in this. Some roles are just perfect for him, and this is one of them. I liked the beginning, when it is shown how they come together in England, getting ready for their tour. The music, the humour. There are also very funny scenes during the movie.

All in all, even though I have a nagging little voice in my head telling me it is not OK, I enjoyed this a great deal.

Here is the trailer from yesterday’s post.

The Messenger (2009) or Fighting, Dying, Notifying

Some people say that The Messenger should have won the Academy Award instead of  The Hurt Locker. It is very possible that they are right.

As long as there are wars there will be fighting. As long as there is fighting there will be dying. And as long as people die in combat someone will have to notify the families. This difficult duty is the job of the Casualty Notification Officer. The Messenger explores this difficult task. To notify people is difficult for many reasons. Some are devastated and the their grief is unbearably raw. Others can´t even accept it. Some turn against the messenger, some are openly aggressive. Some are kind and caring.

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) comes back from a tour in Iraq badly injured. He is said to be a hero even though he can’t accept this. He gets appointed to assist Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who has done the job as Casualty Notification Officer for a very long time. He tells Will to strictly follow procedures. Don´t touch the relatives. Inform them directly. Be clear and precise and leave again.

The first job they get is already a harrowing one and Will realises that it might be even more difficult than he thought it would be. After their job is done, they go for a drink. Tony is a AA, so all he drinks is hot water with lemon. He asks Will very direct questions about everything. At first Will is reluctant to answer but he has no choice.

One day the two have to inform a young woman of the death of her husband. Will is very touched by her and her reaction and contacts her again later and they start to form a bond.

There are many different stories and storylines that are interwoven which is the strength of this movie. In it´s essence I would say, yes, this is a movie about war, but it is even more a movie about relationships. Deep relationships. Each and every single person in this movie carries a deep wound, either physical or psychological. Injuries, heartbreak, loss, betrayal. They have endured a lot and try to cope and heal by opening up to each other.

Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson are remarkable. Remarkable is actually and understatement.

I think The Messenger achieves a very rare thing. It gives us real people. Courageous and open people. And it says a lot of profound things about war and its consequences. Ultimately when there is a war, there will be death and dying. No one should forget this.

In the Valley of Elah (2007): A Stunning Anti-Iraq War Movie

This was a surprisingly good movie with a profound anti-war statement. I don’t know why I did not watch it earlier. Somehow it escaped my radar.  I have seen quite a few Iraq war movies and thought I had seen all possible aspects. Well, I was wrong. In the Valley of Elah is a very unusual, interesting look at the war in Iraq and what it does to young soldiers, but it is also a reflection on the changes in values of soldiers. It’s a quite complex movie. To choose the form of a thriller to tell what the director wanted to tell is quite cunning. Even though it’s not a fast movie and  it takes its time to unfold what happened, it is still gripping. The time was needed as it also tries to illustrate a change in perceptions. The father who is looking for his son at the beginning of the movie will not be the same person at the end. There will be no more idealizing the military or the value and honor of soldiers.

Tommy Lee-Jones plays the above mentioned father, the retired military police officer, Hank Deerfield. He did tours in Vietnam and Korea. The military is his life. No wonder both of his sons follow the same career path. The older one became a chopper pilot, the younger, Mike, is a private who served first in Bosnia and then in Iraq.

At the beginning of the movie Hank gets a phone call informing him his son Mike is AWOL. Hank thought he was still in Iraq and doesn’t understand why Mike did not contact him. He immediately drives to the base that is located a few thousand miles away. Being a former military police investigator, he wants  to look for his son on his own. This is not much appreciated by Mike’s superiors. Hank has another reason for wanting to look for Mike. A strange phone call from his son while he was still in Iraq made him very uneasy. Something terrible must have happened there.

Hank does not get much assistance at the beginning. Neither Mike’s superiors nor his comrades are helpful. And when he goes to the police and speak to Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) he is turned down. The military has to look for its personnel, as she informs him.

Even though she seems to be hardened, Emily has a very soft spot. And when Mike’s´ severely mutilated body is found and she realizes the military wants to cover up the murder she decides to help Hank to find out who did it. They start to  investigate together. The closer they come to the truth, the more Hank has to accept the fact that he did not really know his son and that he has no clue what is going on in Iraq. With the help of a film on Mike’s phone and bits and pieces of information from comrades he understands that this is not Korea or Vietnam and these soldiers are of a different kind. He is disillusioned and shocked about what he finds out. And so is the viewer.

This is a multi-layered, well written and well told  tale that is apparently based on true events. We have a multitude of themes here. Changes in the society and its values that also affect soldiers. What does it mean to be a good father? What values do you teach your children? Will they be able to live according to these values when everything around them falls apart? How do you keep young soldiers sane when they become aware that they are part of something that is pointless and wrong?

It is also interesting to think that a veteran probably does not equal a veteran but that it makes a big diference what war a soldier fought in.

The cast of this movie is very well-chosen. Tommy Lee-Jones looks convincingly tired, disillusioned and world-weary. Susan Sarandon‘s despair is palpable and Charlize Theron manages to play a woman whose life is all but a picnic and still looks perfectly beautiful as ususal. Although not Jason Patric´s best role, he is OK as well.

Alexander Skarsgard aka Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert in Generation Kill

Alexander Skarsgard, the Swedish actor nowadays better known as Eric the Vampire, had a life before True Blood. And quite an interesting one, I dare say.

I am not the world’s most patient person and when I started to watch HBO´s Generation Kill this lack of patience almost cost me a great viewing experience. I was really tempted to give up after episode 1 since I found it a bit boring. But since I am also a curious person I did hang on. I watched the whole series until the final episode and when I realised it was over I  thought: I am actually going to miss the series and its characters. It is a great show and if I can belive the many comments I have read on it coming from Marines, it seems to be truly authentic and captures the feel of the real thing. It is not always about combat and action. A lot is pure boredom and killing time. (And don´t forget, those guys cannot fast forward when it gets too slow).

Part of the series´ success is certainly founded in Alexanders Skarsgard´s impersonation of Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert. The guy is so composed and calm, any cooler than him and you´re probably a glacier.

Today I found this really great video post on YouTube in which Alexander, the real Iceman and the Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright on whose book the series is based all get their say.

More on Generation Kill and Alexander Skarsgard will follow soon.