As someone who has never served in the military or seen combat first-hand, the nature of warfare has long been the stuff of movies to me. THE HORNET’S NEST, a documentary featuring the footage of war correspondent Mike Boettcher, has come closer than any piece of media to providing me with a glimpse of the harsh reality of the war in Afghanistan. In some ways, it is a difficult film to watch; the tension is uncomfortably palpable, and the stakes are 100% real. Combining POV footage and voice-over narration, Boettcher becomes the avatar for the audience, allowing us to experience vicariously the terror of being caught in the middle of a firefight.
THE HORNET’S NEST wastes no time dropping us into the action. The scene opens on a company of soldiers under heavy fire, trapped between Taliban units hidden in the trees. Bullets whiz over head, ricocheting off rocks, as soldiers yell commands at one another and return fire. The film starts with no context, only tension; the film then rewinds the clock to several months prior, when Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos being their tour in Afghanistan. Mike and Carlos’s relationship has been rocky, with Mike skipping many family functions over the years due to time spent covering foreign wars. The two have decided to use this trip as a bonding exercise, which provides an emotional anchor to the film.
The documentary’s strength truly lies in its boots-on-the-ground approach; the film eschews political commentary, focusing instead on Mike, Carlos, and the soldiers they interview. To all parties involved, the political arguments for and against the war are background noise, nowhere near as important as carrying out their missions and protecting their comrades-in-arms. The film intercuts facts about the war in Afghanistan, not to influence opinions on the war itself, but instead to highlight just how serious the stakes are. One sequence proved particularly poignant; shortly after a young Private breaks down after investigating an IED explosion that claimed the lives of six children, the filmmakers remind us that there have been 70,000 IED incidents in Afghanistan since 2001.
It’s easy to think in terms of hyperbole. The impact this documentary has on Hollywood remains to be seen. I would like to think that an astute filmmaker could learn a thing or two about how to shoot a combat scene from THE HORNET’S NEST. Still, even if the film leaves no mark on the cinematic landscape, it left a mark on me. Highly recommended.
THE HORNET’S NEST is in limited markets now, with a theatrical release in Phoenix of 5/23/14.
4 / 5