By Emma Silverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle
Kajaki is based on the true story of a group of soldiers, who in 2006 whilst on a routine expedition of the Kajaki dam in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, stumbled right into a minefield. What followed in reality was five hours of hell as the men waited on rescuing helicopters. One by one the mines activated leaving seven of the men severely injured, (blown off limbs and punctured lungs), whilst the remaining uninjured men attempted to calm and medically aid the casualties, all the while of course fearing another mine may be triggered at any point. What follows in the film is almost two hours that viscerally and un-squeamishly condense this reality. I found it hard to watch in many places due to the explicitness of the violence shown. I don’t think that writer Tom Williams and director Paul Katis set out to make an anti-war film, the film’s tag line after all is ‘For Queen, for Country, for your Mates’ but their end product could certainly serve as one.
The angle Katis and Williams seem to be going for is not exactly a glorification of war (the depiction is too brutal for that) but a glorification of these particular men. Not in the sense that these soldiers are drawn as perfect warriors, as Mark Kermode put it there is ‘nothing Hollywood’ about this depiction, rather that they are drawn as good, honest salt of the earth type English blokes. Ones’ that chat about the weather and rugby, that curse frequently and make ‘your mum’ jokes. There’s a smattering of dick-chat and a lot of jibes about ‘homos’. There is absolutely no time for self-pity here. I found it hard to identify character from character as they were all of a similar ilk, perhaps though there’s something in this; the homogenization and flattening of character in war zones? The best performance for me came from the more rounded character of Tug played by Mark Stanley.
The film overall is perhaps summed up best by the lines of David Elliot who plays soldier Mark Wright in the film, his wish should he die is that he be remembered as: ‘a good soldier and a good dad’. With Father’s Day approaching I imagine the film is going to be heavily tied up with promoting heroic dads.
Kajaki is moving, (who could not be moved by the terrors of modern warfare when depicted realistically?), and tense, this is a total pressure cooker situation but the message is a traditional one of un-analytical hero-worship. When the men are finally picked up by the helicopter a loud American voice proclaims: ‘Let’s get this guy loaded on! This guys a fucking hero!’. Indeed a portion of the profits from the DVD sales will go to Help for Heroes charity, amongst other similar ones.
What these men go through and how it is rendered in the film is indubitably horrendous, but for me more of a focus on the various mens’ motivations to go to war originally as well their back-stories, (beyond the basic fact of them having a missus and some kids back home), would have made for a richer portrayal of these lives.
Kajaki is released on DVD on June 8th.