Hell and Back Again Movie Review

Like Restrepo and Armadillo, this intimate fly-on-the-wall doc uses first-rate filmmaking to take us right into combat. Bristling with youthful energy, it observes the difficulty of reconciling war with home life, which sometimes isn't easy to watch. But it's vitally important.

At the peak of the conflict in Afghanistan in summer 2009, a company of US marines are dropped into hostile territory to fight insurgents and shift the momentum in the war against the Taliban. "We are experts in the application of violence", their leader reminds them, "with a clear purpose and a clean conscience." The film follows 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris over several months in the field, then back to North Carolina. But incorporating his experiences and injury into life back home isn't easy.

Shot with clear-eyed intensity, the cameramen nestle right in with the soldiers as they manoeuvre for position and then engage in brutal gun battles. This approach sharply observes the raw emotions in the line of fire, as well as how they haunt veterans back at home. Structurally, the film flickers back and forth to mimic the jarring battlefield memories. Nathan talks about how the only way to get on with life at war is to accept the fact that you can die at any moment, so it's no surprise that he struggles to cope with the mundane details of a fast-food drive-up window.

Shot like a narrative feature, the film is packed with terrific scenes that are chilling simply because of the subtext. While no one can question the soldiers' motives, their methods are deeply troubling. One officer tells the Afghans that US forces are here to protect them for quite some time, only to be immediately asked to leave because they're making the area too dangerous for the children.

Back home, Nathan cuddles his pistol while his wife sorts out his medication.

Nathan longs to return to the frontline, but his injuries mean that he'll never walk without assistance. On heavy medication, his thoughts turn to violence and suicide, and filmmaker Dennis remains intimately close right through it all.

Clearly, no young man should have to deal with this kind of internal horror.

And Nathan's experiences in Afghanistan will be with him for the rest of his life, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Cast & Crew

Director : Danfung Dennis

Producer : Danfung Dennis, Martin Herring

Starring : Nathan Harris, Ashley Harris, Christian Cabaniss, Eric Meador, Edward Hubbard, Terry Roberts, Doug Webb

Comments

Hell and Back Again Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: 15, 2011

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