One of the Best War Movies I’ve Ever Seen Has Barely Any Combat
‘Kajaki’ is an exercise in tension
by KEVIN KNODELL
The unforgiving Afghan sun beats down on a group of British soldiers. Several are missing limbs, crying out in pain while others shout to the senior medic, asking what they should do.
The Taliban isn’t shooting at them. This isn’t a firefight. The Brits have stumbled into an old Soviet minefield nobody had warned them about. A wrong step could mean death or maiming. They’re waiting for a helicopter to extract them from this nightmare.
This is Kajaki — released as Kilo Two Bravo in the United States — a 2014 British film that’s based on a true story from one of the darkest days of Britain’s war in Afghanistan. It’s one of the most harrowing films I’ve ever seen about the war. And it features barely any actual combat.
The plot reconstructs the circumstances surrounding the death of Cpl. Mark Wright near Kajaki Dam in Helmand province in September 2006. Wright and his fellow soldiers got trapped in a minefield for what seemed like an eternity, each attempt at extraction making things worse until a team of U.S. Air Force pararescue jumpers finally came to their rescue.
British military investigators concluded that better intelligence could have prevented Wright’s death — and probably the entire incident. Public outrage following the tragedy forced several changes in British military policy.
The crowdfunded film was a labor of love involving many British military veterans. Proceeds went to wounded veterans.
Kajaki effectively captures both the terror and the lunacy of the soldiers’ ordeal. Though the film is just over an hour-and-a-half long, it feels much longer. And that’s not at all a bad thing.
The tension makes everything seem to slow down. The camera-work is tight and claustrophobic. There’s no music, just the sound of wind and the buzzing of flies hovering around the wounded. Every time a soldier moves, he risks triggering another blast.
When the mines go off, the blasts are quick and violent. Many films stylize war. Director Peter Berg’s adaptation of Lone Survivor practically fetishizes it. But Kajaki takes a brutally authentic approach.
The film’s makeup and effects departments crafted some of the most hauntingly realistic gore ever portrayed on film. The explosions char and mutilate screaming soldiers. Flesh tears, exposing muscle as blood oozes from the wounds. The uninjured work frantically to apply tourniquets. They toss medical equipment to each other to avoid walking on the deadly ground.
It’s a hard film to watch. But it’s even harder to look away. It pulls you in, because you need to know what happens next. Kajaki is a unique film — and probably one of the best to come out of the current war in Afghanistan.
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