A Good Day to Die (Hoka Hey)
From Blood Diamond to the recent King Kong, cinema has a certain nostalgia for the photojournalist. Spanning his frontline work in Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, A Good Day to Die (Hoka Hey), directed by Harold Monfils, offers a sympathetic portrait of renowned war photographer Jason Howe, from his early assignments to life after warfare. As journalist Tim Page knowingly says at one point: “It’s not a boring life”.
Nonetheless, A Good Day to Die (Hoka Hey), is hamstrung, not only by its unwieldy title, but also the TV documentary feel that pervades the whole film. The opening shots mirror the Zero Dark Thirty-style first person perspective, but frustratingly the movie opts for a talking-heads approach that seems better suited for a Sunday night documentary. During the era of options such as Salt of the Earth, Cameraperson and Cartel Land, which defy genre expectations to create vivid, breathing portraits of conflict and the role of photographers within them, this feature falls staggeringly short.
At times, the film is a breath of fresh air from the slick and bombastic recent offerings by the likes of Netflix that compress the war into simplistic narrative beats. Jason Howe is charismatic, and the movie is a fitting showcase for his talents. As a glimpse into the day-to-day of paramilitary warfare and the longstanding ramifications on the psyche, it is earnest and real. But Monfils’s decision to have Howe narrate striking episodes of his career, layered over his undeniably arresting imagery, limits the work’s scope and fails to evoke any further geopolitical implications.
Eschewing many of the clichés associated with war photography, Howes’s contemporaries and collaborators explore the practical realities of an oft-romanticised profession. In particular, Monfils cross-cuts their testimonies to highlight the Rashomon-style experience of war. But as a cinematic outing, and attempt at expanding on the depth of such conflicts, A Good Day to Die (Hoka Hey) misses the mark. For those passionate about photojournalism only.
A Good Day to Die (Hoka Hey) is released in selected cinemas on 16th June 2017.
Watch the trailer for A Good Day to Die (Hoka Hey) here: