Movie Review: "Hell and Back Again"

Movie Review: "Hell and Back Again"

Summary: A documentary by Danfung Dennis about a wounded solider returning home from Afghanistan.

Published September 30, 2011

: A documentary by Danfung Dennis about a wounded solider returning home from Afghanistan.

Review : Ever since the never-ending war in Iraq and Afghanistan there have been tons of documentaries and films on the effects war has had on our American soldiers. Hell and Back Again is the latest incarnation, which was the World Cinema Grand Jury Award Documentary winner at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

The doc isn't anything new— war is hell, especially when most of the American people aren't even sure what we are fighting for. However, Dennis keeps the politics to a minimum in this moving documentary that captures the terrifying grit of combat.

Ironically, Danfung, who started as a war-front photographer, did not plan to make a film. But when in Afghanistan he put down his camera and filmed with a customized digital SLR camera rig. Brilliantly shot and edited, I had to double check the film was actually a documentary. His no-hold- barred images of war are jaw-dropping, stamping itself in the mind of any viewer.

Hell and Back Again focuses on Sgt. Nathan Harris, of the U.S. Marines Echo Company, whose hip was shattered in combat. He returns home to North Carolina and is enduring a challenging adjustment period. He is grappling with prescription medications and the mixed feelings of knowing he will never fight in combat again. Harris has a fascination with firearms, takes pictures with guns, plays games with guns and even pulls one on his girlfriend.

In one disturbing scene, Harris says, "When I was 18 years old all I wanted to do was kill people." He continued, "They used to ask me when I came into the Marine Corp, 'Why did you come in the Marine Corp?' I always told them, 'Because I wanted to kill.' They always said, 'That's the best answer I ever heard.' That's all they want. That's all they ever wanted." This moment on screen is arguably the best psychological glimpse into the mind of young soliders who will more than likely have to kill. The viewer is left to decide for themselves: Is the solider using patriotism as a right to kill and what does it mean when someone says "all I wanted to do was kill people"? Whether you are pro or anti guns and war, the film will certainly spark a reaction.

Slow at times and nothing that most audiences don't already know, Hell and Back Again is still memorable for its willingness to tackle the psychological effects of war without pushing an agenda down the viewers' throats.

Hell and Back Again opens in New York City on October 5 and Los Angeles on October 14.

Written by Clay Cane


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