Written and directed by former soldier, Tom Petch, 'The Patrol' provides the antidote to the war action film. A psychological drama, the film explores the relationships between a group of British soldiers as they grow disillusioned with the Afghan war.
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In 2006 the UK Minster of Defence announced the deployment of British Troops to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, saying: 'We would be happy to leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot'. 'The Patrol' features a British Army Operational Mentor and Liaison Team supporting this NATO led operation. As the scale of the Taliban insurgency dawns on the soldiers, problems with their operation cause the men to question their role in the war. Written by
Tom Petch delivers a well-paced no frills look at the realities of the early days of the British Army's recent involvement in Afghanistan. To anyone with any knowledge of this conflict, or of some of the less than brilliant equipment British soldiers generally have to put up with, it offers few surprises, but that is not to say that it isn't worth a look.
It works well thanks to some great performances from the cast, combined with a sterling attempt at showing battles and the nuances of the chain of command in a small unit, wrapped up in a realistic production, rather than in an overtly CGI-laden Hollywood style. There is some CGI and matting of course, since when limited to a budget of about a million quid, and filming on location overseas, one cannot afford to have AH-64s, F-16s, A-10 and CH-47s on call. But even though there are some visual effects, they are well done and thanks to the almost documentary-like cinematography of many action sequences, such effects composite shots slot in convincingly enough to not detract from the narrative at all, in fact most people probably won't even realise they are CGI shots, which is the essence of what good CGI should be of course.
Despite the storyline being not especially revelatory (i.e. the familiar tropes are all in evidence here: war is bad, war is often pointless and futile, officers are posh, the ranks are working class, the equipment sucks, the conditions are tough, the enemy is elusive, etc) the film does manage a couple of things which are often not done well in other war movies, in conveying the loneliness of command, as well as the 'them and us' feeling often prevalent among the ranks and how a code of conduct beyond mere salutes develops when away from HQ. This alone is compelling enough to keep you watching and is indicative of the director's ability to convey a subject he knows well to his cast, in that he was actually a British Army officer who experienced this first hand.
Being that Tom Petch is both the writer and director of the film, this is a very good effort, all the more so when we take note of the fact that he has previously only directed one short film and had a couple of jobs as a technical military adviser on one or two other movies.
So, no real surprises in the storyline, especially given the opening narrative which telegraphs part of the tale to us, but The Patrol is certainly worth a look for its convincing portrayal of combat for an isolated small unit in a largely pointless war, as it does this better than a lot of other films which have tried on a much larger budget.
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