It’s sometime late in “The Hornet’s Nest” when we see what war can do to a man. The film is filled with gritty footage of soldiers and Marines engaged in fierce firefights with the Taliban and other insurgent fighters, but it’s the memorial service at the end that jars. Grown men — muscular, dirty and crestfallen — sob as they recall the memory of six U.S. soldiers who were killed in a fierce, prolonged firefight.
It’s one of the most gripping moments of the film, which was released in May and is still making its way through theaters across the country. It follows a father-and-son team of journalists, Mike and Carlos Boettcher, through Afghanistan as they embed with both U.S. Marines and Army soldiers in Afghanistan.
It also highlights a common discrepancy: While major motion pictures like “Lone Survivor” and “The Monuments Men” get multi-million dollar budgets and movie stars like Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney, modern war documentaries like “The Hornet’s Nest,” “Restrepo” and “Battle for Marjah” that feature real footage of U.S. troops in action mostly stay out of the limelight, garnering smaller but fiercely devoted followings in the military and veterans community.
There are a variety of reasons for this. But one of the main ones is that Hollywood studios examine past performance, models and projections when looking at a film’s potential for commercial success, says Christian Tureaud, one of the directors of the film. That leaves it to him and others to push a grassroots campaign that taps into military contacts and creates awareness.
“There is no stars per se in our movie,” Tureaud said. “What we like to say, and what people like General John Allen say, is that after you see this film you realize the real heroes are our men and women in uniform. It’s not actors.”
Allen does say that. The general, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan from July 2011 to February 2013 before retiring, is one of several high-profile defense officials who have backed “The Hornet’s Nest” publicly. He hosted a screening of the film in Washington last month along with former deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter, retired Gen. James Jones and other high-profile individuals. Those in attendance ranged from Marine Commandant Gen. James F. Amos to Wolf Blitzer.
Allen said watching the film gave him “all those old feelings back” about being exposed to combat. He wants officials in Washington to confront the realities of sending U.S. troops to war. Civilians who see the film, he said, will have a better understanding of “why you thank our young troops for their service.”
“This is about the troops and all they’ve endured over this 13-year war,” Allen told Checkpoint. “We’ve asked a great deal from less than 1 percent of the population to fight our wars and stand guard on America’s ramparts. They’ve done it without hesitation and without question, and their performance has been magnificent.”
Wendy Anderson, the deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, is another one of the officials to get involved. She did so in her personal capacity after noting that it is devoid of politic and hearing about how the directors and journalists had involved the families of fallen soldiers in the process.
“It’s been a long 13 years. And there is no one for whom those 13 years has been longer and more challenging than our men and women in uniform,” she said. “I would encourage every American to watch this documentary and consider how to get involved with our community of American men and women who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we reflect on the winding down of our country’s longest war, this is I believe our greatest obligation — to give back to those who’ve given so much.”
Tureaud said the support has been helpful. Another screening for Capitol Hill officials is planned this fall, and it will be released on DVD and on-demand around Sept. 11. The studio also is working to get it aired on national television around the same time, although that is not yet finalized.