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Film Review: Kajaki

Written by Graeme Wood
01.06.15

 

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“It’s not about politics, not about what went wrong. It’s about heroism. Hollywood films seem to glorify everything they do, it’s great to watch but it’s hard as a soldier to look at the realisms. I can’t see how this film could have got it any more true to life then they have!” Paul ‘Tug’ Hartley, GM.

 

Paul ‘Tug’ Hartley was one of a group of troops from 3 Battalion, Parachute Regiment who in 2006 became trapped in a minefield while stationed at the Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan. The small unit of soldiers set out to disable a Taliban roadblock when they found themselves in a dried out riverbed, without warning one of soldiers detonates a land mine, blowing off his leg and setting into motion a desperate rescue mission.

His fellow soldiers swiftly attempted to aid their comrade only to find themselves trapped in an unmarked minefield, a relic of the Russian invasion of the 1980s. With no way out, any movement risked certain injury and possible death. ‘Kajaki’ is an extraordinary tale of bravery; selflessness and heroism as the team risk their lives to help each other and ultimately survive.
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Bringing this remarkable tale to life for British Independent Pukka Films, are director/producer Paul Katis and screenwriter Tom Williams. The stand-out British cast are led by David Elliot, Mark Stanley, Scott Kyle, Benjamin O’Mahony and Bryan Parry. It’s a classy debut from Katis sparsely realized but engaging, terrifying, emotive and full of surprises.

The opening moments superbly capture the bleakness of the Afghan landscape, the comradeship and personal dynamics of the team as they set out on their mission. The platoon stave off boredom and have mixed feelings about what they have been tasked to do and the remoteness of their position. There is a palpable sense of realism throughout that makes the platoons daily rituals seem duller than you might expect but when events take an unexpected turn the results are shocking and explosive. When one of men, Stu Hale, stumbles onto a land mine, losing his leg in the blast, the after effects of panic, torn limbs and the team’s adrenalin-rush to save their comrade are shown in all their aesthetic detail.

The cast and director thrust the viewer into the chaos that follows as the soldier’s frustrations, fear and bravery are all brought to the fore to save their friend. Just when you think the story is about to come to a close with an emergency medical air-evacuation a second mine explodes leaving two Kajaki_3_5more men fallen and suffering horrific injuries. The ad hoc procedures used to stem their injuries are shown in graphic detail and with an inevitable detachment by the men as they use whatever is at hand to stem the blood loss. Stoic medic ‘Tug’ Hartley frustrated by being cut off from his fallen comrades; Wright and Pearson makes a desperate attempt to reach them by throwing a backpack into the mine area, to detonate any mines, then jumping onto the backpack himself once it is deemed safe. It is in turns darkly humorous and terrifying!

Spurred on by the agonised screams of his friends ‘Tug’ eventually reaches them only for yet another landmine to explode causing more panic, injury and destruction.

What follows in the final third of the film is a step by step look at the desperate attempts to keep the injured alive while being cut off from major assistance and waiting for the air-evac team to arrive via helicopter. The tension is cutting edge intersped by dark moments of humour as the men await rescue. Director Katis keeps the momentum going, though at times you start to feel the story sagging under its lengthy runtime, but the moments of frustration faced by the soldiers are underscored by the knowledge that this remarkable tale is exactly how events unfolded. The unflashy, sparse editing and lack of movie score enhance the overall feelings of claustrophobia, desperation, heat and terror that the audience are asked to share with the stranded soldiers during their ordeal.

When the evac team eventually arrive you feel sure that all will end well for the team but we are reminded that this sort of bravery is not without cost.

As the end credits roll we are shown the real life team of soldiers and an update of what they are now doing. It’s an incredible chain of events as the men survived almost four hours before being rescued by Chinook helicopters but not without loss, the explosion took the life of Corporal Mark Wright who held on long enough to see his comrades rescued. The survivors received the highest recognition for bravery from those higher up the chain of command; Lance Corporal Paul Hartley and Fusilier Andrew (Ken) Barlow were awarded the George Medal. Corporal Stuart Pearson was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal and Corporal Mark Wright was awarded a posthumous George Cross.

“Mark wouldn’t let go until he knew we were all safe”, says Stu Hale. “Then I think he almost allowed himself to die. That was certainly the way it seemed to me.” Hale, was fitted with a prosthesis and later became the first amputee to return to Afghanistan until eventually leaving the army in 2014.

★★★★★  Daily Mail

★★★★★  Sunday Express

It’s a story so incredible it couldn’t have been made up’ ★★★★– David Edwards, The Mirror

‘Brilliant, powerful, heart-stirring – everyone should see this film’  – Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail

‘A celebration of heroism and bravery in its purest form’ – Ed Frost, Film3Sixty

 

You can purchase your copy or watch now on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD & est ON

Pre-Order Links:

–    iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/kajaki-the-true-story/id964451408

–    Amazon DVD – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kajaki-DVD-Mark-Stanley/dp/B00T6DN7PW

–    Amazon Blu-Ray – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kajaki-Blu-ray-Mark-Stanley/dp/B00T6LQHB0

 

Available Extras – DVD & Blu-Ray:

–    Behind the scenes with cast

–    The Veterans’ stories, including Stu Pearson QGM and Tug Hartley GM