What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home? Hell and Back Again is a cinematically revolutionary film that asks and answers these questions with a power and ...
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What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home? Hell and Back Again is a cinematically revolutionary film that asks and answers these questions with a power and intimacy no previous film about the conflict in Afghanistan has been able to achieve. It is a masterpiece in the cinema of war.Written by
The title is probably a reference to the classic war film To Hell and Back (1955), which starred Audie Murphy as himself in a dramatic re-telling of his experiences as the most decorated American combat soldier of WWII. This could be regarded as a documentary version of the same concept. See more »
Despite an establishing shot of the exterior of a Walgreens pharmacy, the scene where Nathan's wife purchases his prescriptions is clearly filmed inside a CVS pharmacy, as seen on the cashier's name tag. See more »
If I do everything right, and all my men do everything right, I still can die. So You just have to accept it.
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Hell and Back Again is a war film that should be shown to teenagers rather than something like Battle: Los Angeles. This is a true account of the war in Afghanistan, showing real-life footage of the war taken from the director himself.
We follow around Nathan Harris, a twenty-year old Marine sergeant, who has returned from his six month tour in Afghanistan in a wheelchair. Shortly before the end of his deployment, he is shot by a sniper, with the bullet going through his right hip, punctured his hip socket, before finally collapsing to break his leg. It's a messy scenario, and Harris will need a full year of rehab before returning to Afghanistan.
In the meantime, Harris is trying to adjust to civilian life, while coping with an injury, and is being cared for by his high school sweetheart Ashley. He always seems to be on some sort of medication, and is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. During this time, the film is intercut with combat footage, showing Harris leading his men, strategizing, sometimes stressing, and shooting. It's effective and serves purpose because it real and not fictionalized or dramatized for theatrical purposes.
Some sequences, arguably some of the best, show the Marines talking to the Afghanistan civilians who are disgusted by the Marines invading their area, complicating farming and disrupting their family life. They give the Afghanistan people some humanity and distinction rather than we Americans declaring them "stupid terrorists." One of the strongest things a documentary can do is obviously inform, and Hell and Back Again shows us a world we don't like to think about.
Although the film is poignant, relative, and undeniably interesting, at some points it feels a bit too distended from its actual topic. It's trying to showcase the struggle and inevitably complex adaptation from one life to another, yet it seems to be too sidetracked by showing a number of from the Afghanistan War. And sometimes, the results feels a tad too cinematic by showing a stressed out, barely functional Nathan with his head in his hands, while audio from combat is playing over the scene. It's things like that in which a documentary tries to be too much like a fictional film, by splicing up its own narrative and thoughts in the process.
It still doesn't derail what an incredibly moving film Hell and Back Again is. I recently discussed with a friend about the abundance of media coverage returning soldiers get. I find it to be extremely necessary to show our troops coming home, and that we should never forget the fact that freedom is a lot of things, but not free. I was also told by my grandmother that when soldiers used to come home, they came home and that was it. The Vietnam Vets didn't even get a look from bystanders in the same directions. We have become graphic nationalists in just a few decades and here is a beautifully crafted documentary showing the hardships soldiers face when the battle comes to an end and is transported overseas in your own living room. It seems one doesn't go back to Hell, but rather remains in it.