Tag Archives: war movie

Kolkata IFF screenings 2: Winter in Wartime (Netherlands 2009)

Martijn Lakemeier as Michiel with Anneke Blok as his mother

Winter in Wartime (Oorlogswinter) was possibly the most successful film I saw in Kolkata, partly because it offers a conventional genre film which is both entertaining but also suggestive of an attempt to explore aspects of the wartime German occupation of Holland through the experiences of a young teenager.

The premise is straightforward. The main protagonist is Michiel, son of the mayor of a small Dutch town in 1943/4. Looking for excitement, he and a friend visit the crash site of a downed RAF Mosquito, searching the wreckage for souvenirs. Michiel is arrested by the Germans but is let off when his father intervenes. This is the first of several references to how families respond to the occupation. Is the mayor a collaborator? Initially, Michiel is unaware that one of the two RAF men bailed out and, from his position dangling from his parachute caught in a tree, shot and killed a German soldier. The Germans are keen to find whoever shot the soldier and enquiries begin.

When a friend entrusts Michiel with a message and is then arrested, the teenager decides to disobey his father and uncle and get involved in the Resistance, albeit on his own. He reads the message, discovers the wounded airman in the woods and plots to get him to safety. The final third of the film becomes an exciting chase narrative as a resourceful Michiel tries to effect the safe passage of the airman across the local river.

There are several reasons why the film works so well. Not least is the wintery landscape, beautifully presented in CinemaScope in very muted tones. In fact, I first began to write about the film thinking that I’d seen a B+W print. I was reminded of one of my favourite war pictures, Carl Foreman’s The Victors, which includes a memorable scene in the snow when an American deserter is shot by a US Army firing squad. Added to this is the high level of the performances by the whole cast, but especially Martijn Lakemeier as Michiel. He actually looked and behaved as I imagine boys in the 1940s did – I have photographs of my brother in the late 1940s and this is my yardstick for ‘authenticity’. Although the film is a genre narrative with conventions intact – Michiel’s older sister is an attractive nurse who naturally falls for the equally attractive young British flyer – there is also an attempt to resist typing. Apart from the stereotypical Nazi commander of the local forces, the Germans are shown as real people not monsters and the real focus is on the Dutch community and how it responds to Occupation. Michiel is the recipient of two acts of kindness from German soldiers who unwittingly help him when he is actually working against them. The narrative is a clever mix of ‘boys own adventure’ and serious questions about how to behave under Occupation, who to trust and how to deal with family loyalties and issues of patriotism in the context of real life and death situations. All credit to writers Mieke de Jong, Martin Koolhoven and Paul Jan Nelissen who adapted the novel by Jan Terlouw and to Koolhoven who directed the film.

Winter in Wartime (an accurate title, but not a commercial one?) follows other recent attempts to explore aspects of the ‘Home Front’/Resistance in Holland (Black Book, 2006), Denmark (Flame and Citron, 2008) and Norway (Max Manus, 2008). Like the last of these, Winter in Wartime is an Oscar contender. Other recent war films discussed on this blog include the Polish-American Defiance and Spike Lee’s Miracle of St. Anna. One suggestion is that the current period offers the last occasion to remember the war while there are still survivors of the period alive. Another suggestion is that the birth of the ‘new Europe’ of the expanded EU has prompted filmmakers to explore the recent histories of their countries. However, it’s worth noting that there has also been interest in the First World War with young people in particular interested in what their great grandparents experienced. So perhaps the genre will survive for some time yet.

These European war films have generally been popular in their own domestic markets but a quick glance at IMDB suggests that in the Netherlands audiences have to some extent divided between those that prefer the action-driven Hollywood style of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book and those that rate the more muted drama of Winter in Wartime. I’ve only seen part of the Verhoeven flick but I think that both films are worthwhile entrants in the current cycle.

The Dutch trailer for the film is here on the official website.

Spike Lee Joint 2: Miracle at St. Anna (US/Italy 2008)


The boy with Train and his head and Bishop

This is the only Spike Lee fiction feature that has been denied a UK release. Why? I’m not sure. Possibly because it died at the US Box Office where it failed to reach $10 million against a $45 million budget. But then you would expect Disney (Touchstone) to attempt to get something back on a DVD release in the UK at least. Perhaps one is scheduled, but it is already nearly a year since the US cinema release. IMDB seems out of date on the release schedule since Italy isn’t listed, but according to the Lumiere Database it attracted 191,000 admissions there – not great for an epic film like this. It doesn’t seem to have been released anywhere else in Western Europe (at least not in 2008).

More worrying perhaps is the general unwillingness of distributors to put out films with African-American cultural content in the UK. We are still waiting for the awards-laden The Great Debaters (US 2007), the second film directed by Denzel Washington. There is a form of institutional racism at play here, a kind of dismissal of the possibility that general audiences might find an African-American film interesting. I guess the distributors would point to the general negative reaction to Miracle at St. Anna from US viewers and reviewers, despite the minority view that this is a great film.

I don’t think it is a great film, but it is a film that I would urge anyone interested in representation issues and auteur filmmaking to watch. As is often the case, Roger Ebert gives one of the most sensible responses to the film when he suggests that all the flaws he sees in it, and possibly all the things he doesn’t really like, are evidence of Spike Lee’s vision, which he has maintained in the film in the face of potential front office objections:

“When you see one of his films, you’re seeing one of his films. And Miracle at St. Anna contains richness, anger, history, sentiment, fantasy, reality, violence and life. Maybe too much. Better than too little.”

I’ll go with that.

Outline (no spoilers)

The film is an adaptation, scripted by the author himself, of the novel with the same title by James McBride (published in 2002). The plot opens with an incident in New York in 1983 that sets up a mystery involving, among other things, a marble head that turns out to be a valuable artefact. The main narrative is set in Tuscany in December 1944 during the Allied push against the Germans. Black soldiers from the 92nd Division of the US Army, known as the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’, engage with a large German force near the Serchio River. Four men get detached from the American side and end up on the other side of the river. They rescue a young Italian boy – who bonds immediately with one of the soldiers whom he calls ‘a chocolate giant’ – and eventually find themselves in a mountain village from which the Germans have fled. Meanwhile, the local German commander is being berated by a senior officer and told that he must regroup his men and find both the local partisans who have been harrying the German forces and a German soldier who is missing and must be found. What happens in the ensuing confrontations between the four Americans, the villagers, the partisans and the Germans holds the key to the mystery in New York. The resolution does solve the mystery, but doesn’t perhaps ‘close’ all the narrative questions.


The film is 160 minutes (although the closing credits last nearly 10 minutes) and it does feel long. The rigmarole of watching Region 1 DVDs forced me to watch the film in three parts. I think that if I had seen it in one sitting it would have flowed more as a narrative. In a way, I think I was least impressed with the opening and closing (mostly) New York-set scenes. The central narrative however, I found gripping. The ‘bookending’ of Second World War stories has become a convention of recent war films and to some extent it also links this film to Lee’s previous feature, Inside Man (2006) which also posed a mystery in New York that only made sense in terms of events from the 1930s. Lee has worked before with properties from other writers or with scripts written by strong authorial voices, so I’m not sure how much of the audience’s difficulties with the film come from the original story (which is a fiction based around a real incident). I read the book after I saw the film and in a way I’m glad I did it that way round as I enjoyed getting deeper into the narrative. I don’t believe that books are always ‘better’ than films – they are simply different as narratives.

The book isn’t actually very long, but it does have an awful lot of narrative detail. Although the film script more or less sticks to the book’s central narrative, there are aspects that are cut out since they are easily described in a novel, but would be difficult to include in a film narrative lasting less than three hours. This is inevitable – the book can include more detail, but it doesn’t press the emotional triggers as well as the film for a popular audience. Partly this means we learn less about the four central characters in the film than we do in the book. There is also, I think, less possibility of  exploring the various fantasy or ‘spiritual’ elements of the novel – whether ‘real’ or imagined. More intriguingly, the film simplifies some of the subtleties in the depiction of the Buffalo Soldiers – perhaps McBride thought that audiences simply wouldn’t believe what actually happened in the US Army in Italy? Just to give one example, the leader of the four soldiers is a Staff Sergeant in the film, but a 2nd Lieutenant in the novel – a small difference, but important in how the Buffalo Soldiers were organised. There is also rather more in the novel about the issues concerning white officers and Black men. In other words, the film is perhaps less challenging than the novel in confronting the racism in the US armed forces.

Here are Spike Lee and James McBride in New York discussing the issues surrounding the film – it seems to me that in McBride, Spike Lee has found a like-minded soul (but note the emphasis that McBride puts on the theme of friendship and spirituality over and above the story of the Buffalo Soldiers).

Lee says that he wanted to make the film after reading the book, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that he knew quite a lot about the 92nd Division and had already considered this kind of project. The US forces in the Second World War were still segregated (although led by white officers). This caused problems in Europe as depicted in the John Schlesinger film Yanks (UK/US/Germany 1979) in which the local British girls are attracted to the black GIs and don’t really understand the colour bar (which did exist in Britain, but not so openly). The only other films I know that deal directly with segregation in the US forces at this time are The Tuskegee Airmen, an HBO TV film from 1995 and Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story (1984).

As you might expect, the four soldiers are not Hollywood types but carefully-drawn characters who are constructed in various ways to allow McBride and Lee to explore a range of issues. Pfc Train (Omar Benson Miller) is the ‘chocolate giant’ – the gentle and spiritual boy from North Carolina who has never been close to a white person before he rescues the Italian boy. Corporal Negron (Laz Alonso) is the solid and sensible radio operator from Spanish Harlem, a bilingual man who also speaks enough Italian to translate when they meet the villagers. Sergeant Bishop (Michael Ealy) and Staff Sergeant Stamps (Derek Luke) are the two who have ‘got on’ in life and in the Army, but Bishop is smooth and light-skinned, a con-man preacher from Kansas with the most obvious vices. Stamps is upright and sober but perhaps repressed – he is the product of a special US Army scheme devised to ‘fast track’ potential leaders. He is shocked that he feels more ‘free’ in Italy than at home and there is a vulnerability about him. They fall out over the only young attractive woman in the village – and just about everything else. There has been some comment that Bishop is too ‘modern’ in his speech and mannerisms and I can see this, but I suspect that Lee and McBride want to be sure that his behaviour is recognisable for a contemporary audience.

There are two aspects of the film that I suspect have caused most problems with American audiences. One is a typical Spike Lee insert into the narrative – a flashback to the soldiers during training in the Southern US where they encounter racists in a town bar (which was in the novel, although slightly differently handled). It’s the kind of incident that may well have happened in ‘real life’, but Lee plays it to the hilt. The other surprise for audiences, perhaps expecting a Hollywood style war film, is that the story is just as interested in the villagers and the partisans as in the soldiers and one of the central themes is the kind of supernatural bond that develops between Train and the boy and between the central family group in the village and the group of Black soldiers. McBride and Lee strongly suggest that for the soldiers, the village is a spiritual home.

The film did remind me of the great Hollywood war films – I mean the small-scale gritty pictures made by Robert Aldrich and Sam Fuller and also Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron – no higher praise really, except that it also reminded me of Rossellini’s Paisa with the partisans and Americans fighting the Germans (and the Brits mentioned and somewhere off-screen). The combat scenes were pretty impressive and exciting and probably quite realistic in terms of the survival rate in what was a very hard-fought campaign. I’d urge anyone to see the film – and to read the book. In an ideal world, I think I’d like Spike Lee to be able to make two films – Part 1 about how the Buffalo Soldiers were formed and Part 2 about what happened to them in Tuscany. I hope he returns to material like this. I’m also tempted to read more by James McBride.

Ji jie hao (Assembly, Hong Kong/China/South Korea 2007)


Zhang Hanyu as Gu Zidi

The range of Chinese films distributed in the West is increasing. This popular genre picture from 2007 has been distributed in UK cinemas and on DVD by Metrodome. The film is a biopic about a hero of the People’s Liberation Army who joined up in 1939 and was invalided out after an incident in the Korean War in 1951. Gu Zidi is first seen as the Captain of the 9th Company of a regiment fighting street battles with the Kuomintang Nationalist Forces in 1948. Reprimanded for his treatment of POWs, Gu is then required to base his depleted company on the rise formed around an old mine and to defend it until the last man is standing. He is instructed to retreat only if he hears the ‘Assembly’ call by the regimental bugler. The defence of the old mine is undoubtedly heroic but Gu loses all his men and is himself rendered unconscious. Apart from a later incident in the Korean campaign, most of the rest of the film is presented via flashbacks as Gu attempts to get the authorities to find the grave of his dead comrades who had all been taken into the mine. His story never waivers but he can’t be sure if the bugle call was ever played because he has lost much of his hearing. Did the Army abandon his company? Was the fault his?

The film has generated interest amongst Western fans of military action films (with their detailed interest in campaigns, weapons and strategies). Several commentators compare the film to Saving Private Ryan (a film that has undoubtedly been of great importance in influencing the representation of battles, but is possibly overpraised as a drama). A more helpful comparison would be the South Korean film Taegukgi (Brotherhood, SK 2004) and possibly Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima (2006). The Korean connection is strong in many ways (I’m sure I read somewhere that there was some contact between the two groups of filmmakers). Because the original incident is a Civil War battle, there is a strong sense of the ‘home front’ mixed with the military action and of the confusion over identities which also occurs in the Korean story. There is also a similar attitude towards the absolute horror of war and its representation via CGI. For me, Assembly was perhaps too gory – I’m happy to accept that “war is hell” and I don’t need to see so many dismembered bodies. It did seem at times that arms and legs were too easily severed by a single rifle shot. On the other hand, director Feng Xiaogang did choose to play all the battle scenes via a much reduced palette of blues, greys and reds that certainly didn’t glamourise the violence.

The problem for Western action fans is that the biopic spends plenty of time on the struggle to establish where the bodies are buried. The action is crammed into the first half only – apart from a few flashback scenes. The whole history of the long war – more than 20 years from the first Japanese incursions into Manchuria to the stalemate across the 38th parallel in Korea in 1953 – for what became the PLA is barely known about by audiences in the West and this history and how it is explored is what I found most interesting about Assembly. The film is propagandistic in some ways and also as sentimental as many Hollywood films, but overall it is quite a sober and moving account of an important period. I hope we get to see more Chinese films like this.

Defiance (US 2008)


Daniel Craig and Liv Schreiber as Tuvia and Zus Belieski

Daniel Craig and Liv Schreiber as Tuvia and Zus Belieski

I want to see Andrjez Wajda’s Katyn about the massacre of Polish Army officers by the Russians in 1940. Wajda is a great filmmaker and this is a personal project. But the film still hasn’t got UK distribution. I can watch a similarly personal project about the Jewish partisans who successfully fought the Germans during the occupation of Byelorussia (now Belarus) between 1941 and 1944. The difference is that this is a $50 million film available on wide release in UK multiplexes. It is, however, technically an American independent film, shot in Lithuania with cast and crew largely from Europe. So I guess it’s a global film.

I have mixed feelings about director/co-writer Edward Zwick. I first came across him as the director of Glory (1989), in many ways a ground-breaking film that introduced Denzel Washington as a star and outlined the history of African-Americans in the Union Army during the Civil War. Later, I was repelled by what I read about the representation of Arab terrorists in The Siege (1998) and I didn’t see the film. I did watch The Last Samurai (2003) and although it was overlong and a bit silly in the last third (and starred Tom Cruise), there were impressive scenes and a sense of a genuine love for Japanese history and cinema. Zwick is clearly someone who specialises in stories about individuals caught up in conflicts, often in different cultural contexts. The difference in Defiance is that the film is relevant to Zwick’s own past in that his family left Poland after the First World War and the story of the three Bielski brothers is based on real events.

The three brothers are played by Daniel Craig, Liv Schreiber and Jamie Bell. They couldn’t look less like brothers, but they can all give a good performance, helped, I think, by the decision to all speak in some kind of East European accent. They are at least consistent (even if there are criticisms that a Brit speaking Russian is not very convincing). Although most of the dialogue is in English, there are significant exchanges in Russian and Belarusian (?). Before the screening there was a trailer for Valkyrie, in some ways a similar production – a Hollywood film with British actors and crew members on location in Eastern Europe. But in this case, the actors appeared to keep their own accents. Tom Cruise and Bill Nighy together as German staff officers was hilarious.

The Bielski brothers survived the first wave of German massacres of Belarusian Jews, but lost their parents and wives/girlfriends. They fled to the forests where they built refuges and took in other Jews escaping from the ghettoes, developing a relationship with Russian partisans who were officially part of the Red Army. Eventually, they ended up in a fortified village with over a thousand inhabitants despite attempts by the German forces to flush them out.

The film is well acted, beautifully photographed by the Portuguese master Eduardo Serra and crisply directed by Zwick. The action scenes work well and there is a convincing drama of relationships between the brothers and within the group generally. Part war combat movie and part ‘home front’/resistance film, it offers an interesting generic mix. On the downside it is too long and there was a moment when I thought the narrative lost direction and I began to wonder what might happen (which is rare for me, I’m usually caught up in the narrative). There was also one rather deadly speech delivered by Daniel Craig. I’m loath to criticise speeches where characters lay out a moral/political position since I’ve spent a long time defending the same thing in Ken Loach films. This time, however, the speech just doesn’t fit into the overall approach adopted elsewhere and the narrative just seemed to stop and wait for the moment to go away. Of course, this is a Hollywood film and it is all slightly ridiculous. The young women in the forest are all beautiful, the men are great fighters and the actual group we see never gets more than 40 or 50 strong. A different film might have focused on the logistics of the operation and the realism of survival as well as explaining a bit more about where the story is set and who was fighting whom. This one doesn’t, but as a popular film it introduced audiences to an historical event that is worth remembering. The one terrible thought I had during the screening was that the film could become a propaganda weapon for the Israelis since its main thematic is that these are Jews who fought back and survived an experience that mainstream history has tended to represent in terms of passivity and meek acceptance of a terrible fate. I have no argument with the theme as such and the film was meant to have been released several months ago when it would have been less explosive. It’s a shame that it appears when the attacks on Gaza are at their height. At the end of the film we learn about what happened to the real Bielski brothers. I was wondering if they went to Palestine, but the two survivors (who were represented as pragmatic men) went to New York.

Les femmes des ombres (Female Agents, France 2008)

From left, Déborah François, Sophie Marceau, Marie Gillain and Julie Depardieu

This is the ‘Summer of French Film’ in the UK with one French film released each weak for a couple of months. I saw this for several reasons, not least because Déborah François figured in the supporting roles. Careful not to learn anything in advance, I told my companion that I expected a ‘romp’, something akin to The Dirty Dozen but with French female agents. At the end of the screening his first words were: “Well they’ve certainly changed romps”. I agree. On reflection, this is a highly conventional and rather old-fashioned war adventure movie, but we both enjoyed the film and there is something different about it. I have to confess that the main attraction may well be that simply being a French production makes it more interesting than a similar British or American film.

The other surprise at the end of the film was to discover that the central character (played by Sophie Marceau) was based on a real agent, a woman who died aged 98 only in 2004. I wonder why the film’s promotion didn’t make more of this? The plot concerns four Frenchwomen recruited by SOE in England in late May 1944. Their task is to rescue a British geologist from a German military hospital in occupied Northern France. His work in France is part of the D-Day preparations and they must get to him before the SS. The plot is then complicated by a number of other factors involving important personal relationships. The team is led by a French male officer, the brother of the senior female agent (Marceau) and one of the women had previously been engaged to the SS officer who becomes the chief villain (brilliantly played by the multi-lingual Moritz Bleibtreu).

The plot is ludicrous of course, although presumably some of it is based on real events. But then, this is a mainstream film. Its main task is to present five glamorous women (the fifth is already in France) in situations that generate exciting action sequences. It does this very well. The women are indeed glamorous and the action is well-staged with all the cast performing well. I’m puzzled by reviews that suggest the film is ‘mediocre’. If you want simple entertainment this is definitely worth the ticket price. Beyond that, the film raises some interesting questions about distribution and audience expectations as well as issues about appropriate visual style and narrative structure.

To take the look of the film first, I’m not sure if this was a digital print but it was amazingly ‘clean’ and all the hardware on display looked fresh out of the paintshop. My expert companion was impressed by the buses and trains, especially in the pre-credits sequence in a railway yard. The problem, of course, is that unless CGI is used, there aren’t enough vintage vehicles to create crowded street scenes. I’m glad not to have the CGI used too obviously. There are attempts at a form of expressionism, especially in the final sequences where a confrontation on a station platform is conducted in thick clouds of steam – but this rather adds to the sense of unreality. There is a lack of ‘atmosphere’ somehow. Inevitably the film is going to be compared to Jean-Pierre Melville’s L’Armée des ombres, not least because of the similarity in (French) titles. Melville’s film was low on budget but high on ‘authenticity’ – I’ll have to go back and check on how it looked. What I’m reminded of is the ordinariness of the great Lino Ventura when preparing to be parachuted back into France from England. He has his glasses taped in place with sticking plaster. It’s hard to imagine the ‘female agents’ in similar guise.

What’s intriguing about the distribution of the film (handled in the UK by Revolver which had a big success with Tell No One last year) is how it has been seen as a specialised film, just because of the subtitles. I think that popular French films, which were once (up to the mid 1970s?) distributed widely in the UK in local circuit cinemas, are now very difficult to handle. Dubbing is no longer deemed acceptable, so a mainstream audience is not really given access. The arthouse crowd correctly spots that these are not ‘serious’ films and turns away sniffily. I wonder what kind of reception popular films like Viva Maria (1965) with Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot in revolutionary Mexico, would receive today?

Female Agents opened on 49 prints in the UK and averaged £1,396 per screen – not bad, but no good either. 49 prints seems to me a bit of a compromise, but it’s a tough call. Tell No One opened on 55 screens for an average of over £3,000 per screen at about the same time in 2007. Revolver have tried to repeat the trick and to be fair the films are comparable. They are both genre pics with mainstream appeal, but I fear Female Agents just looks old-fashioned. It’s not ‘cool’, but it’s played with conviction and without cynicism. I think it’s quite refreshing to find a film that believes in heroism and doesn’t fudge the ending. I’m also inclined to look up some of Sphie Marceau’s earlier films – she really is very good in this.

Battle for Haditha (UK 2007)

I remember enjoying and being impressed by one of Nick Broomfield’s early works, Soldier Girls (1981). His later high profile series of authored, ‘performative’ documentaries such as Biggie and Tupac (2002) tended to leave me cold. I could see that they were important in terms of introducing new documentary styles but I just found his presence irritating. I was therefore intrigued by his turn to documentary drama in Ghosts (2006) which I was glad I caught on the big screen. I wish that was where I saw Battle for Haditha.

Instead, I saw this film about the Iraq War on Channel 4. It was broadcast on the day it was released on DVD in the UK. It did in fact get a cinema release – one week in three cinemas according to the UKFC website. I assume that this was to get some reviews and to qualify for awards. This wouldn’t matter except that I was shocked to discover that the film was shot on Super 35 and the film print was ‘Scope 2.35:1. The Channel 4 broadcast was 16:9 or thereabouts (whereas Film 4 usually gets aspect ratios correct). I don’t really feel like I’ve seen a film properly if it is in the wrong ratio and coupled with the annoying ad breaks this ruined my concentration. More 4 screened a documentary co-directed by Broomfield’s son immediately after the Battle for Haditha ended. At one point they trailed the doc. in an ad break and I became confused – I thought the film had started again. If Channel 4 does get some public money after all its lobbying I suggest that Ofcom forces them to restrict ads to the gaps between programmes, not during them.

This long preamble is just to make the point that I find it difficult to judge a film that has aroused controversy – because its presentation was so flawed. The events depicted took place in 2005 and Broomfield recreated them in Jordan using non-actors with some connection to the original ‘players’ in the incident. The main American character, the marine corporal, was played by an ex-marine who had been wounded in Iraq (and who shows his battle scars in one sequence). The case of the marines who were accused of murdering civilians after a roadside bomb exploded has not yet been resolved. This has led to some attacks on Broomfield, as has the overall representation of the Americans. Yet the film does attempt to portray three sides to the argument in a dispassionate way – the marines, the ‘insurgents’ (both foreign fighters and locals) and the local families who were both innocent bystanders and victims of the conflict.

I don’t think it is Broomfield’s fault that I had least sympathy with the marines. I know soldiers have to be tough and that these young men have been brutalised by the war. In principle, I don’t hold them responsible for what Bush and Blair have unleashed. But I found it hard to engage with faceless guys in combat gear who seem to shout and swear most of the time. Most people would surely sympathise with the families, including the young couple pictured above, whose lives are shattered. Oddly though, it is the two men who plant the bomb who seem to be the characters we get to know best. At least they have a reason for what they do — and remorse when it goes wrong. The real villains of the story are the American commanders and the Al Quaeda/insurgent leaders.

The film is very well made on a tiny budget of $2 million, but in the end I’m not sure whether it ‘works’ in terms of the documentary drama style. It doesn’t, for me, have either the fluid action of Paul Greengrass, the melodrama intensity of Ken Loach or the real sense of ‘being there’ that Michael Winterbottom achieves. But if I’d seen it in a cinema I might feel differently about it.