directed by Danfung Dennis
War makes monsters of men. It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it. Add your own trite wartime quote, but the reality is that for most Americans, the War on Terror has long outstayed its welcome. A lot has changed in the past 10 years, but the current war in which we find ourselves is still one in which young men weened on Doom, gangster rap and redneck patriotism are the global mouthpieces for our culture, which is both depressing and frightening (just watch Restrepo for some flinch-worthy evidence of this fact). Danfung Dennis found the centerpiece of his doc in the strangely charismatic and likeable Nathan Harris, who got his ass shot off during another tour in Afghanistan and is now coping with the aftermath of his life choices. Many have sang the praises of Hell and Back Again, and those praises are in many ways much deserved (hell, Dennis got hisself a dang old Academy Award nomination for his picture) though as I watched this film I couldn't help but wonder how actually different Harris would have been had he never experienced war first hand. Harris joined the military to kill, to get a true blue taste of that thrill with which he had been inoculated (and, in a way, promised) since adolescence, and as far as I could tell, he wasn't really affected by all that horror. In war, Harris was calm, collected, at peace, even. It’s the real world that seems to cause him debilitating stress (the parking lot scene is both telling and heart breaking), and not because it stands in stark contrast to the world of war. Truly, the only thing that seems to affect Harris is the drugs he takes to ease the pain of his wounds. Perhaps I know too many Nathans over here, and perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I felt Danfung Dennis tried to stitch together a tapestry that never actually existed simply because he didn't want to make another Restrepo (a far superior film), and in doing so he missed the mark.
Colin from Pick ‘n’ Mix Flix presents more of an outsider’s take on the doc, and perhaps that is the magic ingredient I was missing from this stew. Check it out.