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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intimate Documentary About Men In Combat, Modern Warfare, And The Road Home, December 31, 2011
This review is from: Hell and Back Again [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
There have been a number of films made about men in combat and/or men returning home from conflict. Any documentary feature about our involvement in recent military events may have the tendency to turn the primary topic to political debate. That's fine as subject matter, but sometimes a more simplistic and candid approach can speak volumes louder than any pointed analysis or commentary. Danfung Dennis' intimate chronicle of one Marine unit's presence in Afghanistan places the focus exactly where it should be--on the soldiers. This is about as realistic a glimpse as you're likely to get at the realities of day to day existence in modern warfare. Photojournalist Danfung was embedded with Echo Company in a 2009 assault on Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. As such, he was privy to film the everyday struggles pursuing the enemy faction while interacting with the locals. As you might expect, he documents a number of firefights, injuries and even casualties. But he also films many interaction with town elders about how to navigate a peaceful and respectful coexistence. Danfung's presence is never intrusive and his viewpoint really makes you understand the social climate the soldiers dealt with.

But far more than just an in-country document, Danfung crosscuts and juxtaposes the Afghanistan footage with the personal story of Sergeant Nathan Harris as he readjusts to home life after returning from Echo Company with a rather traumatic injury. For the most part, Harris is the voice of the piece. Danfung doesn't conduct typical interviews, the men in Afghanistan aren't explored in depth, and what we're left with is Harris. He represents the every man persona, or every soldier in this case. He is the consummate soldier, seeing nothing outside of being able to return to his duties. But seeing him work toward recuperation and deal with the aftermath of being in battle is a sometimes harrowing, sometimes uncomfortable portrait. Harris is both a noble figure and one permanently affected by his experiences and injuries. This psychological examination is all the more potent in that it has no particular agenda. It just puts a camera in front of Harris, and the film lets Harris speak for himself.

I really admired this piece and its extremely personal focus. There is no moralizing or political grandstanding or posturing. This is about every day life for soldiers at war and at home. Different viewers will likely take different things out of the movie. But it successfully conveys a reality and intimacy that distinguish it from the pack. It's a quiet film, a subtle one really, but in this apprach--it really gets under your skin in an affecting way. Not only is it a fantastic picture of the modern soldier, it is also terrific filmmaking. And that should also be noted and appreciated. I know this Sundance Award winner is on the shortlist for Oscar consideration as Best Documentary feature--I certainly hope it makes the cut. KGHarris, 12/11.
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Location: StudioCityGuy33 at Yahoo dot com

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