The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Hornet's Nest

The Hornet's Nest is a war documentary with a twist. It follows veteran correspondent Mike Boettcher as he embeds with an elite troop of soldiers sent deep into the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. This is nothing new to him; he's been going into battle for decades. The difference is that Mike's adult son Carlos wants to come along, despite having no experience. He wants to know what his father has been up to all these years. What he witnesses is an eye-opener, for him and for us.

The film consists of footage taken from both men's cameras. The soldiers encounter danger at every turn: hidden Taliban members shooting at them, IEDs in the road, terrain that is difficult to navigate and which leaves them exposed. The Hornet's Nest eventually records a mission that was supposed to last one day but stretches into nine, as the troops find themselves cornered by the Taliban. Food runs low, lives are lost. Interviews the Boettchers conduct with the soldiers are interspersed throughout, offering a commentary on the mental impact of battle.

This is as clear-eyed a portrait of modern warfare as you're likely to see. The images captured by Mike and Carlos Boettcher are haunting. While The Hornet's Nest declines to show any bloody violence, it nevertheless spares nothing in showing the threatening, complicated situations these troops find themselves in. Marching in the heat, with 80-pound packs strapped to their bodies and an enemy that's constantly trying to attack them it all gives you a profound appreciation for what they go through. The film also makes it clear how insidious the Taliban can be. Seemingly benign things like a wire or a piece of pipe can spell catastrophe and must be thoroughly checked out. The horror, it becomes obvious, is every bit as psychological as it is physical. Despite being trained, the soldiers grow exhausted from living in a constant state of arousal. The Hornet's Nest avoids politics, simply taking the audience into the heart of darkness to show the day-to-day reality of fighting this war.

Oddly, the thing that doesn't quite work in The Hornet's Nest is the father/son angle. The film needed either more of it or less of it. What's here isn't particularly in-depth. It would have helped to have Carlos fully explain his reasoning for following his father into one of the most dangerous places in the world, or have Mike comment more about the family milestones he missed by traveling the globe for work. They're both interesting guys, and when they're on screen, we're riveted. But it would have been better to either really plunge into their personal history or largely cut it out altogether.

Even with that minor caveat, The Hornet's Nest is an important, vital documentary. We all know about the War on Terror. We've never really seen inside it so unflinchingly.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

The Hornet's Nest comes to Blu-Ray with over an hour of bonus materials, as well as audio commentary from the filmmakers.

First up is a series of "interviews and testimonials," running twenty-two minutes. Among those represented are country singer Wynonna Judd, a member of the 101st Airborne, the president of the Infinite Hero Foundation, and, perhaps most poignantly, the wives and family members of fallen soldiers shown in the documentary. They offer thoughts on the perils of war and how the film effectively captured them.

There is additionally a nine-minute speech by General John Allen, USMC, Ret. that was given before a special screening of The Hornet's Nest. Nearly a half-hour of Mike Boettcher's original reports for ABC News are here as well, as are the theatrical trailer and a TV spot. Finally, you will find a couple music videos from songs featured in the film, including one by Wynonna Judd.

The Hornet's Nest is rated R for language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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