It’s difficult to describe the horrors of war, and most soldiers returning from overseas may not want to dwell on them anyway. That’s why “The Hornet’s Nest” is such an important movie. The film follows longtime war correspondent Mike Boettcher and his son, Carlos, as they embed with troops in Afghanistan and end up in the midst of the chaos, dodging enemy fire and chronicling searches, rescues and deadly missions.
Rarely is such a flawed movie still a must-see. Soldiers, veterans and their families — many of whom attended a recent screening — will (and did) find the movie cathartic. But those who don’t give a lot of thought to U.S. troops overseas need to watch to get an idea of what’s expected of our fellow citizens in daily combat.
The movie begins in 2011 as the Boettchers board a plane for Afghanistan. Carlos has never been to a war zone, and Mike’s career has hampered the pair’s relationship, so father and son see this as a chance to bond, although a dangerous one. The Boettchers, reporting for ABC, put themselves in harm’s way again and again, and win an Emmy for their work. But the movie’s greatest flaw is that these two shouldn’t be the story; the rekindling of their relationship is less important than what they are in Afghanistan to cover.
As a veteran journalist, Mike speaks with a studied air, so his voiceover narration and direct comments to the camera never sound off-the-cuff. A raw account of warfare would have been better with more observations from the men and women involved in battle. When soldiers are interviewed in the film, they respond in noble soundbites rather than candid observations. In that same vein, the score, which alternates between rousing and melodramatic, isn’t nearly as effective as the sounds of real combat would be.
All that being said, the film is remarkable in scenes where the Boettchers show the soldiers’ harrowing jobs. At one point, medics rescue a young Afghan boy who has been injured by a roadside bomb; later, a soldier methodically goes about the business of finding a live explosive device; and they show us Taliban fighters unleashing streams of gunfire on the soldiers, drawing us into the center of the action.
The movie’s climax is the multi-day mission Operation Strong Eagle III, in which the objective is to move into a deathtrap of a valley where Taliban leader Qari Ziaur Rahman lives. The soldiers find the area teeming with insurgents and end up dodging rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. Many men, most of them in their early 20s, die (all offscreen). Some men even apologize to their fellow soldiers for getting hit.
These scenes and their aftermath are devastating, and hearing friends of the victims talk about them inspires a desire to know more about these soldiers. But the movie seldom focuses on the personalities of those stationed overseas as much as it does on combat.
“The Hornet’s Nest” does serve a necessary purpose. Directors David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud don’t take a political stand; nor do they seem to have an agenda beyond showing civilians stateside what’s happening in the far-off war zone. With the increasing debate on substandard care for veterans and the approach of Memorial Day, it’s a timely moment not only to honor veterans, servicemen and women, but also to understand what their sacrifices entail.
★ ★ ½
R. At area theaters. Contains language and real-life warfare. 93 minutes.