The war in Afghanistan has been documented throughout news, film and television and has claimed the lives of 440 British servicemen – a figure that exceeds even Iraq’s death toll. It’s a controversial war that everyone has strong opinions on and as we begin to withdraw from the country, there are many questions that remain unanswered. The Patrol (released on the 7th of February), winner of this year’s Raindance Feature Film of The Festival, touches on some of these extremely significant questions. Debuting as Britain’s first feature film about the war in Afghanistan, the film explores the nature of the conflict in a way that has never been addressed before.
The film takes us into this war-torn territory, where we are given a snapshot of the conflict through the eyes of a British Army patrol. Fighting alongside the Afghan Army in the Helmand Province, they battle a dangerous and fierce enemy – the Taliban. When the enemy launches a counter attack, the unit is forced to extend their three-day patrol and stick it out to fight for their country.
As they begin to run out of ammunition and are faced with some serious injuries, tensions within the unit begin to arise. Under the leadership of a captain who seems to have lost touch with his men along the way, the group struggle to keep their heads high and behave like brave the soldiers they are supposed to be. Drained, frustrated and increasingly cynical, the men begin to question their role in the war and whether they’re really fighting for anything of worth.
Writer and Director Tom Petch has done a convincing job of putting his experience with the British Army on screen, allowing us to enter the harsh reality of what it’s like to be fighting on the frontline of a war. It is swiftly made evident that the Army isn’t as glamorous as it’s often made out to be, and are forced to look at the war from a point of view that is rarely explored.
We are however left wanting in terms of the men’s interaction with the world around them -for example a soldier glancing over at a young Afghani child kicking a ball around. As the camera often catches these moments, it’s difficult not to wonder what it is that goes through the soldiers’ minds as they watch Afghan locals go about their daily lives in the midst of a war. Unfortunately, these questions remain unanswered.
Instead, The Patrol touches on some of the key issues with the strategies employed by the British Army, as well as the kit they have been supplied with. Throughout the film we remain in awe of the soldiers’ commitment and bravery simply because of the mundane equipment they have been given in order to survive the war. For many of us, this is information we have only just learnt and it leaves us with many new questions about the technicalities of this war. However, these questions remain unanswered as the soldiers continue to complain about a situation that almost seems hopeless. What the audience is left with is a sense of confusion and some extra research to do about the way the war is being reported, and the reality on the ground.
Petch’s frustration with how the war has been reported over the years shines through in The Patrol – a story that allows us to discover how the war was fought and how we lost so many of our men. Although the film wasn’t shot in Afghanistan, Petch could have fooled us. The stark Moroccan desert resembles so closely the battlefields of Afghanistan that it’s almost indistinguishable. This convincing setting, along with Petch’s personal experience within the Army – and details such as shooting the film in the height of summer’s 50 degree temperatures – makes The Patrol one of the most realistic, believable and genuine war films to have ever been made.
Although it leaves us with some unanswered questions, it’s the thought-provoking nature of the film that makes it a must-watch. When the issues being addressed in a film are extremely close to the director’s heart, you can tell. Such is the case with The Patrol – the film benefits from its attention to detail and a simple yet intriguing storyline, but it is Petch’s determination to show us the truth behind the conflict that really rings true. Petch has done an incredible job of making us ask the right questions about a war that has gone on for far too long.
(This review originally published on the 2nd of December)
Priyanka is Manager of the International Political Forum and a Contributing Writer for The London Film Review. Passionate about human rights and politics, she has previously previously written for publications like The Ecologist, Time Out London, Gorilla Film Magazine and The Richmond and Twickenham Times, as well as magazines in South Africa and India. Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyankamogul.