Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Kajaki

A lot of you may not have heard of this film. I hadn’t heard a lot about it myself. Kajaki received a very short theatrical release across a fairly small amount of cinemas, with little marketing. It’s out now on Blu-Ray & DVD, and for this review I went into it fairly blind. I thought to myself “here we go, another generic war film”…I was very wrong. Kajaki is an extremely fresh, albeit horrifyingly tense, take on the genre.


Directed by Paul Katis, Kajaki tells the true story of a small unit of British soldiers positioned near the Kajaki dam in Afghanistan. In 2006, the group found themselves trapped in an unmarked minefield with no clear way out. Any movement was a huge risk. Out of this dark and harrowing day came extraordinary tales of bravery, selflessness and heroism, but also tragic consequences, for leader Corporal Mark Wright and his comrades. The story is told with great respect for the subjects, and is very accurate from what I’ve read. Whilst American war films (eg. American Sniper) tend to just be propaganda that make their subjects out to be superhuman heroes and take certain liberties with their accuracy, Kajaki respectfully portrays the men as just normal British lads under their brave and heroic exteriors, but doesn’t underplay the horror of the events they experienced.  


In terms of the production, Kajaki is fantastically written and performed. It almost plays out like theatre – we follow a small group in a fairly small area, with no music or major time transitions. It begins with something of a fly-on-the-wall look at the comradery and friendship the soldiers share with one another, before things start to get tense and violent as they reach the minefield. The cast have fantastic chemistry together and, as the cast are largely unknown, feels very authentic. The film is visually stunning too, with fantastic understated cinematography capturing the immense vastness of the Afghan desert and hills in which the film is set. You feel the isolation and, arguably, you feel like you’re trapped with them. But the intensity and fear of the film as it goes on is something I haven’t felt in cinema in a while, and had me on the edge of my seat.

I won’t lie to you, Kajaki is a very difficult film to watch. It’s extremely tense, harrowing and violent.  But it’s a film that needs to be seen. Why? Because our soldiers go through things like this all the time, and they have my eternal respect and gratitude for that. I’ve read crowd reports of people walking out of cinemas when watching this film. If they’re soldiers, I can imagine it’s very difficult to re-live things like this. But if they’re not, I feel like they shouldn’t walk out. The soldiers probably wish they could walk out, and they can’t. Why should we be able to? We must never forget what they go through for us. To quote Apocalypse Now; ‘someday this war’s gonna end’. Then they’ll get to enjoy the luxuries we do.


Anyway, Kajaki is truly how you make a war film. In recent years, war films have been very hit-and-miss (with an emphasis on miss), but this has restored my faith in the genre. It’s been labelled a ‘British answer to The Hurt Locker’ and I get that. But it’s far better. Simply put, it’s one of the finest war films I’ve seen in a long time. Like Apocalypse Now, it’s more about the horror and the people than the war itself. In closing, Kajaki is not for the faint of heart. It’s the most harrowing, horrifying and upsetting film I’ve experienced in a while. I can’t emphasise that enough. But again, it is a film that simply needs to be seen.

Phenomenally written, acted and shot; Kajaki earns a solid 5/5.

★★★★★

Sam Love


Kajaki at CeX


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