Hell and Back Again (2011) Poster

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A Whole New View
pierceagnew16 February 2012
I started off watching this documentary honestly because I was bored one night and wanted to watch a documentary. Being fluent in Oscar news, I decided I would be cultured and try to watch one of the documentaries that was nominated. After some searching around I had success in finding Hell and Back Again on Instant Watch. I was a little skeptic at first, because I am not big on the whole Afghan War documentaries. I hate how directors try to shove their ideas down my throat about the war, but I found Hell and Back Again much different.

I was entranced by how many ways the movie was pulling the opinion of the war. It first shows an injured Marine named Nathan who is crippled because of the war. Yet, the moment I began think it was an anti-war movie, Nathan is talking about how he wants to get back onto the front lines! I had to pause the movie and try to wrap my head around this and decide whether this was pro or anti-war. Then it hit me like a sack of bricks, this movie is not pro or anti, it's an actual documentary. It's what a documentary is meant to be, a picture of real life and a gap for the viewer to decide what is right or wrong. I un-paused the movie and continued to watch.

The rest of movie was as gripping and emotion provoking as the first fifteen minutes. The director managed to flip between the footage of the war and the home life of Nathan. You could see Nathan back home still recovering physically from the war while at the same time the 'flashback' clips of the war lets the audience remember that there is more going on than we can see. As an audience you are spell bound. You see Nathan playing Modern Warfare 3 and you wonder what is going on in his head. You see Nathan playing with a gun and you move to the edge of your seats and begin to think that something very real could happen right here. The sheer tension created in this documentary is massive and is not lost on audiences.

One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when Nathan and his wife are looking at a new house and Nathan opens a door. At that moment the movie flicks over to clips from Nathan overseas as he and his fellow soldiers are kicking down doors and then the movie flicks back to Nathan back at the new house where he is looking like he is about to throw up. The raw emotion in that scene really got me going. Overall I was pleasantly surprised at this movie. As a documentary it filled the requirements of not only being entertaining and thought provoking, but also being available to the public. The story was interesting and the people in the story were very real to me. I am giving this movie a 10 out of 10 rating and highly recommend that if you can spare 80 minutes of your life for this movie, then watch it.
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Letting the Images Speak for Themselves
dalefried23 November 2011
Sometimes the power in the imagery of a film alone tells an ambiguous tale that can be taken in many directions by a viewer. With the plethora of documentaries on the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures pushing you this way or that, it was incredibly refreshing to see one that had its intentions somewhere else. Just present the war and its impacts and let the chips fall where they may.

People made a big deal last year about Restrepo showing the intensity of moments in combat. That film, while great, doesn't even touch what young Danfung Dennis achieves here. The up close intimacy of the war moments took the most brazen courage to compile, but the shots are so beautifully constructed you truly can touch the daring and fear of those moments. I have only felt this before in narrative films like The Hurt Locker.

But the footage of the struggle this troubled soldier endures in his recovery from crippling injuries is equally compelling, frightening and heartbreaking. The sewing together of the two worlds presented has a power all its own.

I really believe this amazing young filmmaker, who really gives his all to the art in this film, deserves recognition. It won the documentary jury prize at Sundance. It now has been shortlisted by the Oscars for nomination consideration. These are so deserved.
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A compelling portrayal of the reality of soldiers and their families.
dannielleangelic23 February 2012
Three generations of my family have served their country, with members in almost every branch of the United States Armed Forces. While I decided not to follow in the footsteps of aunts, uncles, cousins, or even my parents, my baby brother did. The day after Katrina hit New Orleans he enlisted in the Marine Corp. It was his unit that was filmed for this documentary.

These men are not actors, they are not trying to "play it up" for the camera and any insinuations to the contrary are beyond offensive. These are trained soldiers who sign their lives away to the government for years at a time, some in hopes of earning school funds, and others a career. Their main worries are to do as commanded, and stay alive long enough to be able to reach their end goals. I watched this documentary with my eyes wide open, with the personal knowledge of how these events changed someone I love.

The beauty of Hell and Back Again is that it allows the rest of the world to see what soldiers and their families live with. We send our soldiers off knowing that at best they will be forever psychologically scarred and at worst we receive that dreaded knock on the door. When they do return we have to help them adjust back to their "normal" lives. So even though Sgt. Harris is the focus, this really is the story of every soldier who has been in a combat zone.

I hope that this film helps people understand that even though many have life altering physical injuries, the hardest part for most will be the life-long mental battle. Only through the genius of editing that follows the emotional path rather than the chronological, can we see those highs and lows with such intensity.

In the end I can only repeat what I told my brother after I saw this film. It allowed me to understand him better, not only as a soldier, but as a changed man. And even though he is still a pain in the rear, I am glad that he made it home alive, issues and all.
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The Terror of War (and the terror of modern society).
AMichaelL23 January 2012
This is one of the most amazing documentaries I have ever seen.

The imagery is stunning, and the filming is pristine - especially considering the conditions - the camera and editing are high quality, and the shakiness is pretty subdued.

Most importantly, the stories are interesting and all too real.

The editing, which juxtaposes the return of the wounded Nathan Harris to America with the striking images of war is chilling. There is simply no other film which actually shows what it might be like to actually have PTSD.

The soldiers in this documentary are all too real, never joking with the camera while in combat, and coming close to death numerous times.

If you want proof, look closely, despite the presence of the camera, few soldiers ever look into it. This may have been a directorial call, but more than likely, it is because they are real soldiers, and one second looking at a camera - especially in such hostile territory - could cost you your life.

This movie is something special, and I doubt we will see anything like it again.

Honestly - props to this filmmaker Dennis - because he has some serious guts/grit.
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A great documentary that will bring out different things from different people
akeason122 April 2011
Many documentaries have some sort of bias, whether it be "pro" or "anti" something or other. "To Hell and Back Again" is different in that it will probably expose one's opinions without really having one itself. The documentary follows the life of Sgt Nathan Harris and his wife Ashley who live in a small town in North Carolina. Nathan is a marine who, on his third tour of duty, is wounded in his leg and has to go through extensive and painful therapy. Danfung Dennis cuts between these images and those he took earlier of Nathan leading his platoon in an intense tour in Afghanistan. The contrasts are incredible and help emphasize everything that a marine goes through both abroad and at home. Some images are severe, such as the deaths of an American LCP and an Afghan soldier (both die off screen but you do see their bodies moments after)

The footage of Nathan at home, however, is what may bring out very different responses. He is obviously in extreme pain and has a harder life, yet is still very gung-ho and dreams of a full recovery and return to the front line (which got a gasp of disbelief by some in my theater). He also is very interested in firearms, and there are several shots of him and his pistols which he keeps near his bed and which he trains his wife how to use. She, meanwhile, must deal with the stress of caring for an injured husband while still performing her daily routine. Together, they see people in their community (who are quite positive), the marine doctors (who are hopeful for his recovery), and attend a very sad memorial for recently KIA soldiers at the base.

To anyone who is staunchly pro-military, the footage should be quite uplifting. Nathan is determined to recover (and he does noticeably improve though as of April 2011 is not fully healed) and the support of his community and especially his wife is heartwarming. Those who are not so gung-ho will probably be shocked by the footage. In the Q&A with the director and Ashley after the screening, one woman asked Ashley if she was scared for her life at all (a reference to Nathan's constant gun wielding, which she wasn't). Regardless of your leanings though this is an excellent documentary and should not be missed.
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Decent but lacking....
MartinHafer22 August 2015
"Hell and Back Again" is a film that was inexplicably nominated for an Oscar. I say inexplicably not because of the subject matter but because the film just seemed to be lacking and didn't seem finished. Yet, oddly, it came close to winning the Oscar for the best documentary feature of the year.

The film follows a marine, Nathan Harris, from his tour of duty in Afghanistan to his life at home following his severe injury in action. It goes back and forth again and again to both locations and the transitions back and forth are a bit jarring. So what did I think? Well, some of the film is quite good--such as seeing the tension and hellish battle conditions the men go through. But it also feels like they just ran out of money and stopped making the film--with so much unanswered and Harris's fate very, very uncertain. The film just seems to stop...and is maddening to watch because of this.
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Amazing documentary that brings you back, or shows you what it's like before and after.
sudano689023 December 2013
I want to start off by saying if you don't have any type of military service, I personally don't think you have a right to leave a review of this documentary.

As an OEF veteran, this documentary was really intense and emotional to watch, but only because it brought me back to that country. My tour wasn't anything close to as rough as his, but I know what it's like on some level and I can relate in a general sense. It really shows you how the war in Afghanistan is with no media twists. It shows how we are truly doing our best to help the people of Afghanistan, and also shows his life after the deployment as well. Many people think a soldiers experience with war ends the moment he returns home. This is stuff that stays with you for life, and I really like how they show you both during and after.

This is how it is, so if you want to see what the war in Afghanistan is like without any biased media distorting the information, watch this.
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Totally pointless
rightwingisevil25 January 2012
"that 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" well, don't buy these words on its face value. this documentary actually didn't do anything further or deeper than all the other similar documentary films about the wars and battles in this particular theater. lives of the marines were just wasted for no purpose, just like when soviet invaded this country, thought it's a piece of cake but turned out to be a tough sheet that only made the soviet went bankruptcy. there's no answers to those dubious questions about patriotism, humanitarianism, moral values or anything.

what we saw in this film was just a bunch of marines randomly shooting bullets aimlessly to nothing, while casualties added up more and more. then the wounded marine came home to find out that nobody in the u.s.a. gave a sheet to what he and his comrades did in that remote country. he couldn't even find a parking space in the big shopping center. he tried so hard to explain those "why we have to fight against taliban in that raghead country", because even he himself couldn't find an appropriate answer to satisfy himself.

this is a very boring and pointless documentary that didn't tell anything worth watching or understanding. this film is actually the worst one i've ever seen so far. by watching this kind of pointless film only wore out my patriotism thinner and thinner. why only poor kids from the lower income families got the privilege to serve their country, lost their lives, their arms and legs and hopes when they came back from that sheethole and they have to deal with their painful treatments and recoveries alone? now, we are backing out and getting away from that death trap, and all the lives of our wonderful young men we wasted there would only be a faded memory. America is just like the huge parking lot in a shopping center, finding a parking space for your vehicle is the most important mission on a daily basis. war on terror? who cares? patriotism is not just waving a stars-n-stripes flag or put a flag on your imported car or, wrapping a yellow ribbon on the tree in your front yard.
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A Look at the Return Home
samuraifa45110 February 2012
"Hell and Back Again" chronicles the return of Sgt. Nathan Harris' return home and the result is interesting, disturbing and somewhat lacking. Sgt. Harris, is a Marine and always wanted to be one. He wants to fight (and "kill") and almost thrives upon it with his obsession with guns. However, after taking an injury in the field in one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan, Harris goes through rehabilitation back home to try and get his life back on track. The focus of the movie is almost entirely on Sgt. Harris and that both helps and hurts the film. While this does offer personality towards the subject matter but it is difficult not to watch "Hell and Back Again" and wonder what this would have been like with other people as subjects as well as outside opinions about Harris himself. The film ends up almost lacking as it tries to alternate between life at home and life (sometimes clumsily) in the military with little to no interaction with anyone else but Harris. Outside of flashback sequences, none of the other members within Harris' Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment are given much development in regards to the narrative which is a shame because most of the segments in Afghanistan are by far the most interesting of the documentary. In the end, "Hell and Back Again" attempts to become the Marine Corps equivalent of "Restrepo" in terms of depicting military life and ends up somewhat missing the mark. It's not an awful documentary, it just could have been so much more than what it was.
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Not to be confused with a documentary
greenmemo25 January 2012
What was the Academy thinking? Nominate this and snub The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, Living In The Material World and Project Nim?? I am not even sure this qualifies as a documentary at all. It feels as fake as your average MTV reality show. Some vignettes about the interaction of the US forces and the afghan villagers are revealing enough, but the rest is pure manipulation. There are even moments that may provoke unintended laughs; that is what generally happens when you try to get a "dramatic performance" from non actors. I believe the whole project is a very misguided attempt at portraying the harrowing effects of war in the bodies and psyche of soldiers. It would have been much better as a biopic given the director obvious penchant for giving the facts a little extra boost though cinematic techniques more commonly associated to fiction. I hope the Oscar in this category goes to Paradise Lost: Purgatory or even to Pina.
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Not really what other reviewers say but still a decent documentary
Tcarts7613 July 2014
OK, the reviews on this say that this is some kind of a revolutionary documentary, is pro/anti war neutral, and several others things. But that really isn't the case.

First I will not say it is horrible. It is actually pretty good. My problem is more about what people say about it. The only real thing I see that is different is that expensive cameras were used. That is about it. Watching it you get the feel though, that this is not real and it is a recreation of what happened. That is due to the cameras, but also the dialog going on in the war scenes. Being a veteran, I can say that the dialog going on between soldiers feels a lot more forced. As if, in the fog of a fire fight the cameraman is prompting these guys to talk and it is not just filming things as they happened. I am not sure if that i what was going on, just that through experience, it is pretty suspect that that is what is going on. I don't think that is some kind of dirty trick or anything. It just is what it is.

I also take issue with those that say this is a war neutral film. If you look at the score on this site about this movie it rates high which in today's day and age doesn't happen unless it skews to a "evil empire of the U.S.A." movie. The story of Harris at home also shows mostly the effects of PTSD, and has a bit of feel of a film that says,"Look at the horrible gun culture of the U.S." I think that feeling is veiled in a way that some may be able to say is neutral.

Nobody likes war. Especially those that fight it. The problem is there are people all over the world that think there is never a reason to ever go to war and want us to completely stay away from war. It is a noble thought and gesture, but it has no basis in reality. Neville Chamberlain tried that in the 1930's and it didn't turn out well. The reason that peace at all costs doesn't work because there are other people out there that don't think that way. I think the most recent example is our idiot President Obama facing Mitt Romney in a debate before the 2012 election. Mitt Romney said that Russia was a geo-political enemy of the U.S. Obama's snarky comment was that the 80's are calling and want their president back. There was laughter and the folks at Obama's propaganda network (MSNBC) laughed and made fun of the thought that Russia was in anyway an enemy. Well, they weren't laughing when Russia annexed the Crimea.... Obama forgot that Putin does not think in the "leave everything and one alone fallacy...

PTSD is a tough thing. This movie touches on it, but a lot of what I saw was just a guy who was having trouble coming home from being a big, strong, tough, Member of the military and trying to adjust to being wounded, and to a degree helpless. I think that has more to do with the depression and everything else. That is a huge thing even without PTSD. PTSD has been around since the beginning of human existence, not something just discovered and the hard part about it is that it effects everyone differently and there are no real way to predict how it will effect anyone. Some have an extremely difficult time with it some do not.

All in all, it is not a horrible film, but I really don't think it was a huge, awesome film that should be dressed in a bunch of awards. Many are comparing it to "Restrepo" but if I were to compare the two I would say that "Restrepo" is a far better documentary than this one.Part of that is this movie has no real story, and it is much more disjointed than the other one. Still decent though.
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Maybe they exist in Hell
StevePulaski20 April 2012
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.

Starring: Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris and Ashley Harris. Directed by: Danfung Dennis.
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The real poorly trained U.S. Marines were exposed
BasicLogic23 July 2016
It's so shockingly sad to see the real poorly trained Marines in combat. Just a bunch of YOYOs, screaming their heads off when they were dropped behind the enemy line. All they did was just shooting blindly to somewhere in front of them. They carried so many gears in their backpack that made them very difficult to run in the field. What we heard from the commanding officer was just a bunch big and hollow words, trying so hard to encourage those young Marines to do a good job, but once they were on the ground, heard bullets whizzed around them, all they could do was screaming to each other, hiding from some obstacles and kept shooting blindly to their general random front directions. They have wasted so many bullets to shoot nothing. We were used to be fooled by many movies telling us how cool, how brave and how well-trained the US Marines, how tough they were, how they got even tougher jobs after they did several tours. The overly glorified US Marines stories were just like fictions, fantasies that could only exist in daydreams.

This documentary if on the basis of exposing how terrible the US Marines during combat, it should got 10 stars, because it had vividly shown us how pathetic the Marines were in general. But if you take it from a different patriotic angle, this documentary sucked big time, it did nothing to glorify the US forces, especially the Marines. They have mindlessly wasted their lives wherever they were thrown into. All of them just looked so lame, so timid, so scared, all they could and would do is just shooting blindly to their unknown enemies. What a pathetic documentary since what it showed to us only made us shaking our heads constantly.
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Makes a very strong statement
jwv-823-797156 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The documentary starts off with a thought provoking contrast. We land in the middle of a deadly Afghan war scene, only to see the marines' family reunion in America shortly after. This contrast suggests the frightful incompatibility of these scenes, and hints at the question of how the marines cope with this.

During the story of Nathan back home, our point of view shifts from time to time to the Afghan war scene. These suggest the flashbacks that Nathan experiences.

Ironic scenes from Nathan playing Call of Duty confront the viewer with the barbarity it is of reducing war to an enjoyable video game.

The strongest moment in the film features one of Obama's speeches touching on the Afghan war. The film suggests the ridiculousness, emptiness and idiocy of Obama's idealized speeches about war, and subtly subverts it when a wounded and indifferent Nathan comments: "Well, Afgan people aren't watching." This film suggests that even physically unharmed marines come home profoundly wounded, be it emotional. Nathan's neurotic and unpredictable behaviour makes us question what injury cuts deeper, the physical or the emotional.
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Worth Watch & Streaming On Netflix
sponge323 February 2012
I'm a civilian and love my men and women that have served, and continue to serve, our great country.

To me, for better or worse, this documentary just tries to be honest. The images and facts of war can be difficult to watch, but sometimes what war can do to an individual, can be equally tough to witness.

Although this documentary is focused on one individual, I feel that it might be applicable to a great number of our armed forces, that return home wounded. This particular hero is back home trying to recover from a pretty serious injury and all he can think about is getting back out there.

What's most humbling to me, is that you get to see how much effort, time, love and passion that it takes to mentally and physically try to recover from war. Those closest to the wounded, ultimately share in their soldier's sacrifice.

Ultimately, I feel that when I say "thank you for your service", it clearly isn't enough. Feel free to acknowledge the care givers as well, it looks awfully hard on them too.

Thanks to our great men and women of our armed forces!!!
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Marine rehabbed from Afghanistan war wound
ScapegoatsOfTheEmpire2 February 2013
This documentary was pretty good. As a 100% disabled Vietnam Marine, I found the story before his wound and his rehab at home very interesting. What I do not understand is how they could have committed such an egregious error of saying, '...the medics could not save the Marine.' To be glib, the medics could not save the Marine, as there are no medics in the Marine Corps; US Marines are provided Navy Corpsman, established by US Congress in 1898. Other than this error, this is a fairly interesting documentary. I enjoyed his rehab at home very much; I found it to be very telling about the effects of war. Hopefully, they will edit better in the future.
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The real hell was watching this awful film!
plon3111 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This so called documentary is absolutely rubbish!! A documentary should be insightful and educational. This clearly is NOT! This is as educational as watching monkeys throwing cr@p in a cage.

This is a so called "documentary" is about a backward redneck called Nathan who gets shot in the butt whilst on duty in Afghanistan and his stupid, backward philosophy and outlook on life whilst he is recovering back home.

If you're an American you would probably find this semi interesting, as there is nothing like the story of a white trash redneck and his pointless experiences in the war.
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Pointless stupidly
nthbeach11 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has no point. Its just about a dumb, uneducated, middle class American who gets wounded fighting an illegal war. He has no idea why he is there. All we know is that he's dumb, uneducated, loves the marines and guns. There is no message or point to this stupid film. Why are we watching a dumb fool reliving his pointless experience? At least provide us with an individual who has a brain cell and who is capable of rational and semi intelligent thought.
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The cost of war from another POV
ahw0210 March 2012
This film gives viewers a very clear glimpse at some of the predicaments the U.S. has put its servicemen into, as well as Afghan locals, during its war in Afghanistan. "Hell and Back Again" focuses on the struggles of one particular U.S. Marine; however the segments filmed in Afghanistan during the 2009 U.S./British offensives into Helmand province successfully show the chaos, confusion and tragedy of war from the perspective of the combatants. As well, the segments that follow the particular Marine gives viewers an interesting perspective of potential psychological effects people who have been in, and scarred by, combat face.
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Problematic but necessary viewing.
RococoTapes27 May 2012
This film troubles me. The quality of shooting and editing is excellent, but I'm somewhat unnerved by what the possible consequences of exposing so much about a damaged individual could do to harm their already fragile metal state. A man who is obviously struggling to make sense of his rapidly diverging ideals is here used as fodder for sensationalism - Danfung Dennis does not hesitate to fictionalise Nathan Harris by crudely overdubbing scenes of him struggling during physical rehabilitation with the sound of warfare. Harris is treated as a puppet and it is never explained why. I don't remember Harris himself mentioning flashbacks? This film was either poorly edited or poorly conceived of, but I would say it is still worth watching simply to understand the manner in which the war in Afghanistan is being portrayed to the public at large, a public that have reacted positively to the film in the most part.
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