Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I remember where I was, and what I was doing on September 11th, 2001 and oddly enough I equally remember my exactly location, and activity the day we started our war in Afghanistan. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 12 and a half years since we first set foot in the rugged Middle Eastern country. While I’m sure there will be plenty of future documentaries and dramatizations to come after we have our final soldier leave, “The Hornet’s Nest” will be a part of the pantheon of important films documenting the sacrifice American troops made.
“The Hornet’s Nest” pulls no punches with its depiction. From the very first frame, we’re implanted right in the maelstrom of war. We hear the violent hiss of bullets whizzing by (sometimes too close for comfort), while troops quickly take cover and return fire. There’s even a couple of gripping moments as they search for IED’s in the dirt paths littered about the countryside. Moments showcasing the lives, thoughts and feelings of the soldiers we watch are embedded in between their multiple near death encounters. With such an unflinching look, it’s a little unnerving when the fire fights start. You’re never quite sure what horrific twists and turns lie ahead or what tragedies the camera might catch.
Giving us this harrowing glimpse of chaos is Mike Boettcher, a Peabody and Emmy award-winning journalist, who still looks haggard from his time over there. He’s joined by his son, Carlos, a rookie in the journalism field, who is a constant worry for Mike. Equipped with a couple of hand-held cameras, they conceal themselves amongst the U.S. military. They join them on one of their most dangerous missions yet, Operation Strong Eagle III. It’s not altogether clear what the specifics are, but the gist of the operation involves eliminating the Taliban presence in parts of the Kunar province where local Afghans are still trying to find a way to prosper economically.
The focus seems a bit uneven at times with an unnecessary side story involving our documentarians, Carlos and Mike. This should be a vehicle driven by the brave men and women of the United States, but at times the troops take a back seat to a quasi-emotional and divested look at the father-son relationship of Mike and Carlos. I know that these two are putting their lives on the line along with our troops to bring us this fine look into the warzone, but it feels a bit disingenuous to take even a fraction of the spotlight from the military. Luckily that perspective fizzles out halfway through.
When we are left with the footage of combat, there’s no contesting the raw power it holds. The emotional clutches of “The Hornet’s Nest” doesn’t come from any on-screen violence, but more from the heart wrenching moments. There’s these unbearable moments like when the realization set’s in on the troop’s faces when someone has just died. It’s made even worse when a flood of sadness slams into their demeanor when recollecting their last fleeting glimpses of their friends they’ll never see again. “The Hornet’s Nest” isn’t a political piece nor is it a propaganda vehicle ready to stir patriotism, it’s a powerful human reminder of what the past 12 and a half years have been like for hundreds of thousands. We should never forget these people.