Written for RAF News Nov 2014
Kajaki: The True Story captures the harrowing events of September 2006 when a group of British paratroopers in Afghanistan found themselves in the middle of an unmarked minefield. Beginning in the mountainous desert of the Helmand province, we are introduced to 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, stationed on a ridge that overlooks the Kajaki Dam. From here we see the vast stretches of sand to the horizon where there has been little activity. That is until a three-man patrol sets out to investigate a Taliban roadblock and a landmine is set off, blowing off one of the patrols legs. Immediately the film is confined to mere millimetres as a rescue mission is put into action, with any movement on the ground possessing the potential to trigger another deathly explosion.
The mines are a relic of the Soviet invasion of the 80s, left behind by Russian forces, ‘God knows what we’re gonna leave behind’ says one of the fresh-faced ensemble cast. This is perhaps the only reference to British occupation in Afghanistan, which is coming to an end this year, but Kajaki has not been made as political commentary, it is a film that shows a single situation – a true story based on the testimony of the soldiers involved – from which we can glimpse the extremes of the frontline, outside of combat even. We see the sheer bravery that is required in circumstances such as these. It shows the comradery and heroism of the British forces without firefights and action scenes, giving them a cinematic presence that has been largely absent for decades.
Though it will undoubtedly collect comparisons to The Hurt Locker, it’s Britishness is evident in the relentless banter and dark humour, especially in times of horror and devastation – you’d be hard pressed to find an American GI writing ‘Gay’ on the face of Private Ryan after having his leg blown off. The filming style also breaks from the dominant style in Hollywood as largely still, wide angle shots evoke palpable tension without having to jiggle the camera about. Long stretches of silence and focus on the careful movements of those in the foreground invites the inevitable and you can’t help but tense up in anticipation. The blistering heat of the Afghani desert adds to the tension like a Lumet film (think: 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon) growing in intensity as the group becomes more and more desperate. This uncomfortable suspense doesn’t let up, making it impossible to not be involved in the film.