It’s the Christmas Holidays so I have decided to try to clear out some of my Netflix streaming queue. Since I have seen virtually every mainstream war movie at this point, my queue consists mainly of straight to DVD type films. The kind of movies I have to force myself to watch, convincing myself it is what I signed on for with this blog. “Kilo Two Bravo” seemed to fit into this category of justifiably forgotten movies. I, at first, mistook it for a documentary and had put it on hold for my future documentary binge. I am embarrassed to admit that my other misread was thinking it was fictional. All’s well that ends well, however. You don’t have to repeat my errors and hopefully will check out this forgotten gem.
“Kilo Two Bravo” is a British film directed by Paul Katis. It’s British title is “Kajaki: The True Story”. It was filmed at Al Kaferin Dam in Jordan. The movie tells the story of an incident involving a unit of British soldiers guarding the Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan in 2006. The film made a splash in Great Britain partly due to some controversy, but was less than a blip in America.
The movie opens with a culture clash between the British and the locals, but that will not become a theme. The movie is not going to comment on the situation in Afghanistan. However, the opening scene does establish the question: “what the Hell are we doing here?” Officially, the unit is stationed at an observation post called OP Normandy. They are guarding a dam and keeping an eye out for suspicious Taliban activity. The arrival of a replacement offers the opportunity to tour the camp and meet the lads. The newbie is accepted with no problems. The men get along fine. There is no dysfunction. This is not a Vietnam War movie. There is a lot of soldier banter and camaraderie. The area of operations is quiet, so they spend most of their time finding ways to waste time. Like in actual war situations. A good bit of that time-wasting is ragging each other. Watch the movie with subtitles if you want the full effect of the banter because the accents are very thick. At one point, a dog is seen with a missing leg due to stepping on one of the millions of mines left over from the Soviet occupation. Foreshadowing. The only action occurs when they call in a night air strike on suspicious activity. Midway through the movie and I am wondering if this is a reality show. Then one day… A sniper spots what looks like a Taliban check point. Why not take a closer look? Who wants something to do to relieve the boredom? A trio head down a dry river bed and pretty soon everybody’s boredom is out the window when the sniper steps on a mine. This random step sets in motion a chain of events that run the gamut of human emotions.
Now that you have seen “American Sniper”, how about watching a realistic movie about modern warfare? Not every soldier is a warrior and most days are boring. Except for those rare days when the shit hits the fan and men are forced to man up. This is the way the war really was like in Afghanistan in 2006. This is the way soldiers behaved. This is the way they talked. This is how they killed time. This is how some died.
The cast is not stellar, but that is appropriate for a film that is about the men, not individuals. The acting is fine. The actors (there are no females in the movie) are an ensemble and no one is trying to scene steal or scenery chew. There is some outstanding wounded acting. Some of the best I’ve seen. You really feel their pain. The standouts are David Eliot as Mark Wright and Mark Stanley as Paul “Tug” Hartley. Stanley plays the medic who uses his pack and some tension-filled leapfrogging to get to the wounded. He is spot on in portraying a man who is at first overwhelmed by a situation he never imagined, but snaps out of it and shows bravery he never imagined he had in him. Hartley was awarded the George Cross for this bravery. Eliot plays the team leader who is wounded by one of the mines and yet continues to take charge and keep morale up in spite of life-threatening injuries. He also got the George Cross.
The movie is well made considering the small budget. The location shooting in Jordan lends itself to great scenery. They managed to find a location that matched the actual site. The dialogue is soldierly. One of the wounded says “give us a fag, mate.” There is plenty of slang, including “dick rot”. The dark humor associated with soldiers is a feature of the film. The wounded are cracking jokes between cries for more morphine. It’s not just the talk, the characters also walk the walk. They act and react like Anglo-American soldiers would. The war comes to a screeching halt as the unit does everything humanly possible to rescue their own. (In that respect, it has a Vietnam vibe to it.) The movie also is effective in depicting how complacency can lead to disaster. Another theme is the randomness of casualties. Surprisingly, Katis is not interested in indicting the war or the one’s running it. This is not “Black Hawk Down”. The camera stays with the men, we do not cut back much to command decisions. An investigation of the incident uncovered several systemic problems, but the movie only hints at them. There’s another difference between the movie and a documentary. It’s the appealing personalities of the men that draws the conclusion that these men’s bodies were not worth protecting a dam in Afghanistan. Don’t get that confused with “they weren’t worth a damn”. These guys were and the movie makes that clear.
“Kilo Two Bravo” has its own niche in the modern war movie genre. It deals with an incident that did not involve a single gunshot. The enemy makes no appearance. The explosions are not inflicted Hollywood style. The suspense is not what is around the corner, it’s the next step. All this is done with no music to push your buttons. The buttons are pushed by the graphic wounds and the men’s reactions to them. Not just the wounded men’s reactions, but their helpless, frustrated mates. Before you sit in your recliner and get frustrated with the never ending Afghanistan War, remember what the men fighting the war are going through.
GRADE = A
HISTORICAL ACCURACY: It goes to show how little the media cared about the war in Afghanistan by 2006 that I had trouble finding information about the incident. I will have to buy and read Patrick Bishop’s 3 Para to get the full story. But until then, here is what I found. 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment was assigned to guard Kajaki Dam. One of the outposts was called “Normandy”. On Sept. 5, 2006, a sniper team was ordered to get a closer look at a possible Taliban check point. Although maps of the mine fields were available, Lance Corporal Stuart Hale took the trio into a dry river bed and stepped on one of the mines left behind by the Soviets. His leg was blown off. Hale later vouched for the accuracy of the movie. Lance Corporal Mark Wright organized the relief force. Unfortunately, Stu Pearson became the second victim in a manner and form similar to Hale’s. A British Chinook Casevac helicopter arrived, but could not land near due to the mines. The chopper was not equipped with winch equipment, which became a major controversy in the aftermath of the incident. At this point, while trying to clear a path to the helicopter, Wright either stepped on another mine or the prop wash set one off. Wright was wounded as depicted in the movie. He had a bad arm wound and wounds to the neck, face, and chest. In spite of this, Wright continued to supervise and keep morale up. The medic, Paul “Tug” Hartley worked to keep the wounded alive. The arrival of an American Black Hawk took several more hours, but it did have winches and the wounded were evacuated. Wright died on the way to the hospital.
The movie revived criticism of the British military’s role in the tragedy. The movie does allude to the communication problems due to faulty radios. The lack of a map is not clearly presented, nor the lack of mine extraction kits. The winch problem was later explained by the Ministry of Defense as tragic bad timing as the theater winches had been shipped back to Great Britain because of issues with functionality. Although the movie does not attempt to assign blame, the Ministry of Defense withdrew cooperation with the production after seeing the script. It also sent a letter to Para members to avoid discussing the film in public and to not wear uniforms to showings.