I like war films. Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, We Were Soldiers, Lone Survivor, The Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down – these are all great modern war films. But I can honestly say that I have never seen a war film quite like Kajaki.
This is the true story of a company of young British soldiers from 3 Para who, in September 2006, set off on a routine patrol from their outpost overlooking the Kajaki Dam in Southern Afghanistan, but instead of engaging the Taliban they encounter an altogether different, unexpected and terrifying enemy. While making their way across a wadi (a dried out river bed) one them steps on an anti-personnel mine. As his brothers-in-arms rush to his aid they discover they have inadvertently stumbled into the middle of a minefield left there by the Soviets after their invasion and subsequent withdrawal from the province some twenty-five years earlier.
There are no firefights – in fact there isn’t a single shot fired in the entire film. The Taliban are only glimpsed in the far distance. It does not judge and nor does it take sides. But it is a horrific and exhausting experience. And trust me, when I say experience I don’t use that word lightly. To say that this film is tense would be doing it a disservice. This is not merely tense – this is nerve shredding and terrifying almost throughout its 108 minute running time.
One thing that stands out by virtue of its absence is music. There is no music until the final credits roll, and when you watch the film you’ll understand why. There is absolutely no need for music to heighten the tension because the dire situation these brave lads find themselves trapped in provides more than enough tension. I found myself watching the film through my fingers with my knees up against my chest. The only let up is the black humour and banter the soldiers hurl at each other as a coping mechanism to take their minds off the seemingly inescapable situation they have found themselves in.
This is a film devoid of clichés and sentimentality. The screenplay by Tom Williams is a model of tight plotting and crisp, course and realistic dialogue. The director, Paul Katis, makes his film look like millions of dollars had been spent on it, instead of the low budget British film that it is. The acting is exemplary, particularly from David Elliot and Mark Stanley There are no flashbacks and no cuts to the families waiting at home. Instead, the film concentrates on the men themselves and the unbreakable bond of brotherhood they share when facing adverse and horrific circumstances. It could, in fact, almost be described as a love story.
This is going to be a short review as I would like everyone who reads this to rush out and buy or rent this film and watch it immediately and let me know what they think of it. For me it’s a fitting tribute to the courage of the men who had to endure that terrible day and I defy anyone not to admit they had at least one tear in their eye when the final credits roll.
In conclusion, I don’t normally agree with most things that Jeremy Clarkson has to say, and when he reviewed this film describing this as “the best British war film ever made,” I still don’t agree with him. This is not the best British war film ever made. This is the best war film ever made by anyone anywhere. Period.