The controversy surrounding modern British and American military presence overseas has led to civilian confusion over motivations and reasoning, and, in turn, to a distrust of governmental and military decisions. The Patrol, written and directed by ex-British Army soldier Tom Petch, is the first British film to centre on the Afghanistan war, winning Film of the Year at the 2013 Raindance Festival.
The film is set in 2006, nearer to the start of NATO’s involvement in the Afghan civil war, when no end to the conflict was in sight. The Patrol details real concerns that were held by soldiers over the reasons for their deployment, the integrity of tactics and the quality of equipment. The Patrol follows a small patrol unit as their three-day tour turns into two weeks away from camp, exploring the fragility of the military hierarchy as respect for the mission disintegrates. Undersupplied, uninformed and each feeling the shockwaves of a comrade killed in action, the soldiers’ frustration mounts as the futility of their mission becomes increasingly obvious.
The Patrol addresses real concerns with an authenticity lent by Petch’s military experience that transports the audience into the story. The film shows only the small cast of the army patrol it follows, and through the visual absence of other British and American troops, Taliban (or “Terry”), or even the Afghans they were supposedly there to support, highlights the isolation of the patrol and their disconnection from any real sense of purpose.
The relentlessness of scene after scene of unending desert builds in the audience a sense of claustrophobic mundanity as the tension between characters builds. The result is a film that creates within its audience a constant discomfort as typical war film conventions are pushed aside by Petch, who avoids extreme drama or emotion in favour of forcing his audience to temporarily occupy the mind-space of isolated soldiers in the desert. The film is unapologetic in its refusal to over-explain the script’s slang and jargon, again placing the audience inside the unit with the troops, as meaning is instead absorbed through the shifting moods in the unit.
Petch’s debut film raises many questions about the necessity of the British involvement in the Afghanistan war, but he is careful to never insult or deny the bravery of the troops. The Patrol holds a unique realism and is a valuable alternative to war films of the past.
The Patrol is released on 7th February 2014.
Watch the trailer for The Patrol here: