Kilo Two Bravo (released as “Kajaki” in the UK) is out this week on DVD. Article originally published November, 2015
Kilo Two Bravo – Courage Under the Afghan Sun
Gallows humor, they call it, though if you were in Britain, you would spell it with a “u”. Wherever you are, sometimes things get so awful that all you can do is laugh. Or try to. In the fantastic new movie “Kilo Two Bravo”, things get very, very bad. You may chuckle a few times, but this is not a comedy.
Paul Katis’s feature debut, which was released as “Kajaki” in the UK, deals with an real-life incident in Afghanistan in 2006. Americans sometimes forget, unless Prince Harry is interviewed speaking about his own tours of duty, that we are not the only nation fighting in Operation Enduring Freedom, and films about the British contribution have been few. “Kilo Two Bravo” looks at the service of far from princely men, and focuses on one particular day, the day a lot of things went wrong.
The 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (known as 3 Para, and you’ll hear the term “Para” a lot) are monitoring activity around the important Kajaki hydro-electric Dam in Helmand Province. The day starts out like others, with suspected Taliban activity seen from their bird’s eye view point – they call their mini base Normandy – but nothing too serious; the medic has time to go for a dip, the mail jeep makes its drop, stories are swapped, and magazines and treats from home are enjoyed. Mind you, they are in hostile territory, but away enough from where they suspect the real action is to be a tad envious of the other regiments.
Woe, woe to any character in a war movie that laments not being in the thick of it.
What could go wrong?
These aren’t “characters”, they are of course, real people, played by not-so-well known actors who seem like …real people. Real soldiers (with a variety of challenging regional UK accents, and we’ll get to that in a moment) on an ordinary day, on a grey- and sand-colored landscape that goes on forever and seems… serene? Boring? The tiny group of buildings – normal little houses – Kilo are observing don’t look menacing, really. What could go wrong in Afghanistan?
Amongst the scenes of empty-water-bottle chess and busting each other’s bollocks, the film mostly avoids the usual American film setting up of the character tropes: good guy, loud guy, lone black guy (actually, this seems to be the case, but the makeup of the group is as it was), and everyone’s favorite, Mr. Destined to Die as he just bought his girl a ring. The comraderie is tight.
Good, they’re going to need it.
British Academy Award nominated
I waver here in telling you what happens next, but as American readers would not have heard of this incident from the news, or remember much about the Russian campaign through the 80s, I’ll let you see for yourself. Director Katis puts us right there to find out. Once the advance party splits off from the larger group, it becomes much easier to keep track of who’s who, and Katis excels at keeping us close to the troubled and trapped men, building the tension as solutions fail and tempers fray. The silence of some of the scenes speaks volumes as the hours tick by. On the other hand, there are some moments that would be comical if they were taking place in another scenario, and a long, beautifully gruesome overhead camera shot highlights one of them. Katis was nominated, along with producer Andrew de Lotbiniere, for a BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer and the production team was awarded a British Independent Film Award. Screenwriter Tom Williams’ script doesn’t try to put soliloquies or morals into the mouths of his soldiers. He does have the few Americans seen call everyone “buddy”, but stereotypes sometimes exist for a reason.
It is definitely not a rah-rah shoot ’em up, nor a recruiting film in any way. You will spend a very long day with these guys, and while the running time could be trimmed just a smidge (“Kilo Two Bravo” comes in at 1hr50, including credits you should stay for), the pace is right for the subject matter. War, wherever it happens, varies between terror and tedium. Although the only relief from that unrelenting sand tone is the burgundy t-shirts a few of the soldiers wear, and the bright red of spilled blood, the main relief from the tension comes from the regiment itself. Jokes will be made, bravery will ensue, and men will be lost. You don’t need to know anything about the politics or the wheres and whys going on at the time – this is the story of comrades trapped in horrible circumstances trying to save each other, save themselves and somehow keep smiling through.
there won’t be any subtitles provided for US audiences, and I don’t mean for the brief sentences spoken in Pashto. These soldiers have accents ranging from Scotland to Huddersfield, and you might just have a problem cutting through sometimes. I live in London and had to pay close attention. On the positive side, you’ll learn some new words and references: the aforementioned Para; the poem they are reading is Rudyard Kipling’s The Young British Soldier, and yes, that really happened; Sod’s Law is the same as Murphy’s Law, “bines” (short for Woodbines) are cigarettes; you’ll need to know Fred West was a serial killer, and Ken Barlow is one of the most famous soap opera characters in English history. Bit of a chump, I think, but I confess I don’t watch “Coronation Street”. I do confess I know two of the people involved in this film, but that did not factor into my opinion of the end product.
Limited release in Atlanta, Mesquite and Sugar Land (TX), Highlands Ranch (CO), Sterling Heights (MI), Kansas City (MO), Tampa, Glendale (AZ), Alexandria (VA), and Orange County.
Canadian Beasts, look for it at TIFF Bell Lightbox
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.