Most adults have heard the famous General Sherman quote on war being hell, but we have no measuring stick to judge its veracity. Director Tom Petch attempts to give us one through his film, The Patrol, which examines the lives of British troops in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, as they fulfill their role as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. It’s a war film for a modern world, where viewers have become weary of fighting other nations’ wars and trying to police the international community.
The Patrol follows Silicon 10, a British army unit sent on a routine patrol to reclaim or protect a small Afghani town in Helmand Province from Taliban control. Operation Icarus is as doomed as its name, though, and the three-day run extends to fifteen, straining the patience, supplies, and morale of the men. By the time they can return to base, each member of the squad has begun to question their role in this increasingly dangerous, foreign war.
I expected The Patrol to be a typical war movie, where fire fights, explosions, and battle tactics carried the majority of the story. Instead, I got a slow-paced, introspective piece about the people who fight our wars and begin to see the prices they pay for their service. Director Tom Petch takes his personal military experiences and refines them into the type of scenario now seen by the British in Afghanistan, which gives an intensely personal feel to the piece. While the focus isn’t on grand strategies or intense skirmishes, The Patrol never shies away from the violence that still exists in Helmand Province. It simply feels like daily life for a patrolling soldier rather than a cinematic climax.
I didn’t strongly identify with any of the characters in the movie, but they weren’t two dimensional cut outs either. Petch’s dialogue drops hints about each man’s backstory to make them fully fleshed out. For example, young Stab worked as a maternity nurse before enlisting, while Sol, the sergeant of the unit, joined at fifteen and considers himself career military. The behavior of the soldiers with Captain Richardson also indicated that their leader had their grudging respect, probably drilled in through military training, but he is not well loved by his subordinates. I must congratulate both Tom Petch and his actors for their ability to demonstrate the complex relationships of the characters so well that I easily pieced them together.
Sadly, my one disappointment with the casting is that, yet again, this is a war film with no female soldiers. I believe that one of the medical team that appears early in the film may be a woman, but she is the only female military presence; however, I do not know British policy about women in combat roles or the types of roles allowed to women in the British military. Petch’s portrayal may simply match current regulations for the UK.
The Patrol filmed on location in Morocco, and the desert’s transformation into sandy, bleak Afghanistan looks nearly perfect to my inexperienced eyes. I am unsure if the main town was built by the movie creators or something repurposed for the film; either way, it matched my expectations of a rural Afghani village. My only minor complaint was that some shots seemed to show more greenery than I would anticipate in the region, but I never lost the sense of being in a horribly deserted corner of the world.
Overall, The Patrol is not a film to watch if you want to whip up warm feelings of patriotism or the righteousness of war. It’s a hard look at what war can do to those fighting it, and I was left with a hollow feeling in my gut when the credits rolled; however, if you like films that make you think or want to know more about the war in Afghanistan from a non-US perspective, this is a great pick! You’ll come away wondering if the West really should be policing the world when the price is so high.
4 Arguments about Bad Gear out of 5