Restrepo was the war documentary that everyone was buzzing about in 2010, but in the same year another film was released: Armadillo. Restrepo (read review here followed a group of American soldiers in the Korengal Valley (Afghanistan), the film also has a book counterpart by Director Sebastian Junger called War. Restrepo received a lot of attention and acclaim, it won Grand Jury Prize and best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Armadillo played at Cannes and won the The International Critics’ Week (La Semaine Internationale de la Critique) but is better known for a controversy the film generated.
Armadillo was initially meant to be a six part documentary series for Danish public television called “Our War”. The intent of the series was to “bring the war home” to the people of Denmark. The Danish public were largely unaware of the role their troops played in the war and I am sure this documentary more than achieved what it set out to do.
Armadillo follows 170 British and Danish International Security Assistance Force soldiers based at the Armadillo military base in Helmand province, Afghanistan over a six month period. In the first scenes of the film we see troops getting ready to leave and saying their goodbyes to their families before they have a blow out night of drinking and partying with strippers. Once in Afghanistan they go on patrols, encounter locals, engage the enemy and various other combat scenarios.
The aforementioned controversy occurred during a firefight when some soldiers pretty much liquidated three or four Taliban. The bodies were shredded to bits (shown graphically) and the soldiers boasted about their kill. A concerned soldier phoned home and told his mother what happened and this soldier (culprit is unknown) was later branded a snitch by command. It is not clear if they broke the rules of engagement and to this day I assume it is still unknown.
The majority of Danes in this film are not portrayed in a heroic or likeable light. They watch porn, play violent video games and are very macho. American’s have a reputation for being psycho/wacko/killing machines but Restrepo didn’t portray that stereotype whereas the soldiers in Armadillo are the stereotype we’ve all come to know of the “psycho American soldier”. Restrepo got into the souls of the soldiers and is a really visceral film, Armadillo didn’t quite have the same effect on me. Although It is unfair to compare them as they are two different films, compared to Restrepo, Armadillo is very polished and slick, almost clinical, it’s as if they are at war on a stage and it is rarely is gut-wrenching. There’s one scene where a soldier slays a bunch of Taliban and the Taliban are so close you can hear them scream Allah Akbhar. There’s some intriguing moments of the Danes dealing with the locals who want compensation for damage to crops and livestock, perhaps the funniest scene is when a Danish-Asian soldier is ridiculed by little boys for having “slant eyes”.
Still, Armadillo is well worth viewing. For me it seemed a bit too glossy and we rarely see the frustration, anguish and boredom that is prevalent during wartime. A must see for those who enjoy war documentaries. A great release from Madman that is packed with extras and well worth the purchase price.
Prior to Departure: 13 minutes of interviews and training clips, First Days in Afghanistan: 5 minutes – clips of troops talking about mine threats and IEDS, Afghan National Army: 6 minutes – footage of Afghan National Army and a troop member who stood on a mine, Civilian Afghans: 7 minutes – footage of villagers receiving compensation and discussing damages and concerns about IEDS,The Death of a Little Girl: 7 minute clip – a fight results in a girl dying and one soldier can’t handle the threat of IEDS and goes home, At the End of the Road: 5 minute clip where some of the troops discuss going home and what they miss, Director Comments: a 6 minute clip with the director and finally a selection of Madman trailers.