‘The Hornet’s Nest’ Is Like ‘Restrepo’—Except Awful
Directors force drama, neglect soldiers
Lately there’s been a barrage of war documentaries by embedded reporters. Films like Restrepo, Armadillo and Dirty Wars have helped audiences understand what it’s like to fight and die. They’re visceral experiences.
The Hornet’s Nest wants to be one of these films. Too bad it sucks.
Directed by Christian Tureaud and David Salzberg, The Hornet’s Nest follows Emmy- and Peabody-award winning journalist Mike Boettcher during his time embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The twist is that Mike’s estranged son Carlos is coming along, too.
Boettcher’s been doing the war-reporting thing for 34 years and he’s rarely home. The directors play Carlos’ decision to go to Afghanistan with his father as an attempt to reconnect. The scenes with father and son are awkward. It’s obvious their relationship is strained from years apart.
A particularly uncomfortable moment comes when the two get separated. After a grueling day, the soldiers learn they must split up in order to clear out a Taliban stronghold. Boettcher is exhausted. Carlos volunteers to cover the fighting without his father.
What follows is a overwrought scene that Tureaud and Salzberg pieced together using footage from Carlos’ camera as well as from an interview with Boettcher, shot after his return home.
Carlos’ Gopro camera captures the sounds of gunfire. The camera falls. The music swells with tragic notes. Cut to Boettcher, tears in his eyes, telling us he wasn’t sure if he was ever going to see his son again. Cut to Carlos’ camera, lying on the ground unmoving.
It’s shitty and manipulative. A cheap trick to get the audience emotionally invested. Carlos was fine. His camera rises. The music blares triumphant.
The whole movie is like this. The filmmakers are harpies, cutting and re-cutting their footage for the maximum emotional impact … even when the raw material doesn’t warrant it. The whole movies feels dishonest.
The few moments of cinematic honesty occur when the directors focus on, you know, the soldiers. This doesn’t happen often. In the first half of the movie there are only a few interviews with the enlisted troops. It’s shoddy way to represent the men and women who protected the father-son team during their travels.
Midway through the film, Carlos leaves to return home. Suddenly deprived of its artificial drama, the film shifts focus.
Two stories, both bad
The back half of the film is ostensibly about the soldiers’ experiences. But it’s too little, too late. The audience has just spent over half the film following Boettcher and Carlos. The shift to other subjects is jarring.
Worse than that, it’s insulting—to the audience and to the soldiers on screen. There was no time to get to know them. The Restrepo-style interviews are few and feel cheap. We’re witnessing the desperate scrambling of directors trying to salvage their crap bit of cinéma-vérité.
For all of its claims to represent the soldiers’ authentic experiences, The Hornet’s Nest is dishonest and cynical. The creators’ fingerprints smudge every frame.
Take a look at the directors’ IMDB credits. They’re producers. Businessmen. It’s no surprise that their foray into the burgeoning war-documentary market feels like a bad imitation. The film just hit New York and California. I urge you not to go see it.