Did you know that we’re still fighting a war in Afghanistan? You probably did, as the release of POW hero/traitor Bowe Bergdahl has been all over the news this week. But if that wasn’t enough to remind you that America’s Longest War is still a ‘thing,’ there’s two new documentaries out to jog your memories.
THE HORNET’S NEST (2014)
ABC journalist Mike Boettcher goes to Afghanistan to cover the war, only this time he brings his son Carlos along. Directed by David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud, this is a navel-gazing documentary about journalists making a documentary. We hardly get to hear from the soldiers, who are mostly background noise to the story about father-son journalistic bonding. The net effect is like one of those Vice war zone reports, but instead of a douchey hipster marveling at how close he came to getting shot, it’s a veteran Nightline reporter and his son.
Additional nuisances come in the form of an overbearing soundtrack and unnecessary subtitles. But possibly the worst aspect of this movie is the directors’ tendency to cut away whenever anything interesting happens. Undoubtedly there was some kind of agreement between the filmmakers and the soldiers not to show any blood, but the end result is.. well, bloodless. It feels like such a cheat to cut to black whenever anyone is shot or an IED goes off.
At one point in the film, the audience is introduced to a helicopter medevac unit composed of all women and one male medic. Now THERE is a story worthy of a documentary – but only if it was made by a journalist willing to go past the surface.
Sebastian Junger is back with his follow-up to the outstanding documentary Restrepo (2010), but it’s hard to say why. Korengal covers the same territory as Restrepo, features the same soldiers, and even recycles some of the same footage. The resulting film is well-crafted, even moving, but basically just a re-hash.
The only thing new is a series of close-up interview segments with the soldiers reflecting on their wartime experiences. The Joes are likable and real, and these humanizing sequences are exactly what’s missing from The Hornet’s Nest. It’s probably not worth your ten – fifteen dollars to go see this in a theater, but there are so many war porn tv channels that this movie will probably show up on cable in no time.
Barring unforeseen circumstances – maybe some dramatic Fall-of-Saigon footage – these will probably be the last big documentaries about Afghanistan. It’s sad, but we’ll always have Restrepo (2010).