03 December 2010

Red Bull Film Festival: The Short List

Despite the upcoming holiday season, what follows really isn't really a gift-guide. No matter how socially redeeming, I attempt to avoid mixing "blood and guts" with my "peace on earth." So, although I know that many soldiers strangely seem to gravitate toward war movies while they are themselves deployed, I'm not including any of these in this year's Red Bull care packages.

But, while this isn't a gift-guide, I do need to mention that "Restrepo" is on sale for 40-percent off at National Geographic until Dec. 6. Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray. 'Nuff said.

Here are six movies, all readily available on DVD and most on Blu-Ray, that will potentially educate and entertain viewers regarding Afghanistan. You might learn a little or a lot, but it certainly won't be dull ...


"Restrepo" (2010)

This Sundance-winning documentary tells the story of a company of 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team soldiers to an isolated valley in Nangahar Province, Afghanistan. Producers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington repeatedly embedded with the soldiers during the course of the deployment. The result is gritty, raw, and without editorialization. This is the real deal.

When a limited number of Red Bull soldiers screened the movie before its theatrical release, some expressed concerns regarding the soldierly discipline, constant combat, and rustic living conditions depicted at Combat Outpost Restrepo. Be forewarned but hopeful: Your soldier's Afghanistan will likely be very different--Inshallah.

Bonus factoids:

A morality tale involving a lost Soviet tank crew penned into a no-win situation in an Afghan valley. The characters are drawn broadly: the Captain Queeg-like tank commander; the sensitive and bespectacled independent-thinker; the university-educated Afghan doing his part for Mother Russia; the young, uncertain tribal Khan and his scavenger-for-profit-and-Allah cousin.

And Stephen Baldwin.

The vehicle itself becomes something of a white whale in all this, sort of "Moby Tank." The movie turns on a basic explanation of Pashtunwali, the unwritten code of ethics followed by some Afghan-Pakastani tribes. The code includes some nine principles, although the film only really focuses on Nanawatai (asylum, even for one's enemies) and Badal (justice, although the film calls it "revenge").

Red Bull cavalry troopers may love this movie, because it attempts to use U.S. armor procedures in dialogue. Or they may hate it, because it attempts to use U.S. armor procedures and fails so miserably at it that even an Army radio guy can see through it.


"The Kite Runner" (2007)

Another morality tale, but with fewer philosophical resolutions delivered by rocket attack. This movie tells the fictional story of two boys growing up in pre-Soviet Kabul. The movie illustrates that there was an Westernized Afghan society, at least in Kabul, before the Taliban. It also depicts conditions under the Taliban rule, including public stonings and human trafficking.

The mountain scenery is also notable--definitely not Iowa or Nebraska.

Still, because the narrative deals with the sexual assault of a young boy early in the film, an unscientific survey indicates that most manly Red Bull soldiers would rather rent "Steel Magnolias" (1989) and give foot massages than deal with this story.


"Full Battle Rattle" (2008)

Another documentary, this film tells the story of a soon-to-deploy U.S. Army battalion as it attempts to win the local population's hearts and minds within the simulated environment of the National Training Center (N.T.C.), Fort Irwin, Calif. The cameras follow both soldiers and role-players--the latter, the immigrants and citizens who populate and "work" in 13 simulated villages.

In addition to showing your U.S. tax dollars hard at work in providing the best Army training anywhere, the film also accurately captures the frustrations units face in conducting counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. Soldiers learn that the best intentions often do not translate, and promises are considered only worth the posters they are printed on.

Although the battalion featured in the film eventually heads to Iraq, the documentary notes that NTC would soon upgrade to simulate either Iraq or Afghanistan.


"Charlie Wilson's War" (2007)

Tom Hanks as a hard-drinking, womanizing, cocaine-using U.S. Representative from 1980-something Texas? Check. Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a grumpy, disgruntled Central Intelligence Agency analyst? Check. Julia Roberts playing a Rich Mistress of the Universe? Check. Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin? Based on a true story? No Stephen Baldwin? Check, check, and check.

Tell me, what is not to like about this quirky little political-thriller-meets-intelligence-tragicomedy, which tells the true-life story of how one party-boy Democrat managed to maneuver the D.C. machinery into funding the Mujahideen against the Soviets?

Yes, admittedly, the movie does end with a kind of "morning after" mood, which contributes to some viewer unease about how the mujahideen might use those weapons in the decades to come. Or about how U.S. actions or inactions in post-Soviet Afghanistan might have contributed to the rise of the Taliban.

Cocktail, anyone?


"9th Company" (2005), also known as "9th Rota"

Recently re-released on a U.S.-format DVD, this Russian-language film is a high-production-value retelling of the 1988 Battle for Hill 3234. During this battle, a Soviet force of 39 men withstood an assault of 200 to 400 Mujahideen, while defending high ground overlooking a section of road between Gardez and Khost.

In history, the Soviets sustained 34 casualties, including 6 killed. In this movie version, admittedly, they seem lose far more soldiers than that. Even the sensitive and bespectacled independent-thinker buys the farm. On the plus side? No Stephen Baldwin.

All in all, think "Platoon" (1986) with cyrillic letters and vodka. As a bonus, if you're not into captions, the English-language soundtrack seems accented just enough for flavor.


  1. FYI, the accolades for Restrepo keep growing. It's received solid nominations for Best Doc from both the Independent Spirit Awards (held the night before the Oscars) and the National Boards of Review.

    The big question amid industry wag is whether The Pat Tillman story will make it in instead of Restrepo, or if there will be room made for both. They are very different stories.
    It remains to be seen how Academy members and voters for the other awards will vote.

    Also, Sundance is coming up, and there's at least one documentary in the competition that is military-themed.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.