Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hornet’s Nest: With the No Slack Troops in Afghanistan

He was known as QZR—was known. Now the Taliban militant is simply the late Qari Ziaur Rahman. The civilized world can thank the troops of the No Slack Battalion 2/327 and their 2nd Battalion 8th Regiment Marine Regiment and 3BCT “Rakkasan” Airborne colleagues. Embedded journalists Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos followed the No Slack Task Force on a series of dangerous missions, culminating with a strike against Rahman on his home turf. Shot by the Boettchers, the action is as real as it gets in David Salzberg & Christian Tureaud’s The Hornet’s Nest (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Credited as producers and cinematographers, the Boettchers were deeply embedded with the No Slack troops, very much in the line of Taliban fire. A veteran war correspondent, Mike Boettcher had done this sort of thing before, serving as a fulltime embed for Nightline. This was Carlos Boettcher’s first time covering a war zone, but his father reluctantly agreed to let him share his assignment. Despite his concern, he hoped the same forces that bound the troops together would help repair their somewhat estranged relationship.

It probably is not much of a spoiler to report that much proceeded as planned. The real point to Nest is the footage they jointly recorded, which is absolutely incredible. Remarkable for their clarity of sound and visuals, Nest’s warfighting incidents are even more intense and far easier to follow than anything seen in Junger’s Korengal films or Brothers at War and Severe Clear, documenting the Iraq War experience. At times, Salzberg & Tureaud are able to shift between each embed’s footage for multiple vantage points on the chaotic battles.

Frankly, Nest probably realizes the worst fears of several Columbia School of Journalism faculty members regarding embedded reporters. While the senior Emmy winning Boettcher scrupulously avoids political judgments, he makes no secret of his deep emotional involvement in the events he covers. It is easy to understand why, because the audience sees what he sees. It is tough to stay neutral watching Afghan children fall victim to IEDs or medivac helicopters take fire from Taliban forces, but the Boettchers witness it all in the heat and smoke of real-time war.

For obvious reasons, Nest has followed an unconventional distribution strategy, releasing in markets with large military populations before its New York run. As it happens, it opens here the same day as Junger’s Korengal. Both films are well worth seeing, but Nest is in fact the more powerful of the two. No other contemporary war doc so eerily captures the whistling sound of bullets whizzing overhead and when No Slack soldiers mourn their fallen brothers, Nest packs a greater punch to the emotional solar plexus. Very highly recommended, The Hornet’s Nest opens tomorrow (5/30) in New York at the AMC Empire and Village 7 theaters.