'Kilo Two Bravo'
So many war films shuffle through cinema screens these days that it can be difficult to find one that feels distinguished or even devoid of overblown politics. ‘Kilo Two Bravo’ is one of the rare exceptions. Produced on a tight budget by a first-time filmmaker and a cast of mostly unknown actors, the movie is a gripping, visceral and intense snippet of life as a soldier, without a single battle scene or rallying cry. It’s like no other war film, yet is also simple, direct and to the point.
The movie opens with a beautiful and disorienting shot of almost neon blue water as a soldier swims past. He then bursts out into a vast, empty, yellow desert landscape in a startling visual contrast. It’s instantly clear that director Paul Katis is in complete control of his film, and he never lets go of it or gives the audience much chance to breathe from there. Based on a true story that occurred in Afghanistan in 2006, the film is about a collection of soldiers who accidentally stumble onto a minefield left over from a previous conflict. One victim’s leg is nastily blown off with no detail spared from viewers. Then, as friends and medics come to his aid, other mines are found by accident, the injuries escalate, and the soldiers desperately search for solutions to the pain, fear and danger of their situation.
Devoid of traditional combat sequences, backstory, or even music, Katis lets the situation and characters dictate the movie. It’s a curiously tense setting. Given the vast desert surrounding the characters, the atmosphere can’t exactly be described as claustrophobic. Yet at the same time, everyone is afraid to move to avoid stepping on something unpleasant. Bringing in outside help is just as treacherous. Viewers are as stuck as the characters and the randomness that leads to the destruction keeps everyone on edge at all times. It could be read as a metaphor for the unpredictable madness of war or taken purely as a beat-by-beat real-time account of a specific event. Either way, the intensity of the project never lets up once the first mine bursts.
Katis creates oddly beautiful images and hair-raising suspense sequences while sticking to a raw and visceral aesthetic. There’s not a moment that feels false despite the fact that the filmmaker remains in control of his endlessly tense situation. None of the gory details are spared, nor are they dwelled on in any sort of exploitative manner. It’s just a necessary reality for viewers and the characters to deal with that is unsettling. The performances are universally impressive (especially from Mark Stanley as the medic pushed to the limit), with everyone pitching themselves at a constant state of high emotional intensity and somehow never losing sight of the reality of the situation.
A great deal of morbid comedy also bubbles up, but never at the expense of the tragedy. It’s done in a manner that anyone in such an absurdly tragic situation might behave and only adds to the messy realism of the piece. ‘Kilo Two Bravo’ is ultimately a very simple movie, documenting a single situation without imposing too much onto the story that wasn’t already there or even cutting away to another location. However, within the parameters of those simple and direct filmmaking goals, Paul Katis has delivered an incredibly effective and affecting piece of work that’s difficult to shake. Perhaps because it avoids any political statements or needless moralizing, this has to be considered one of the best war films in recent years. It could never be described as a fun watch, but it’s certainly something impossible to tear your eyes from in the moment or forget once you wander out of the theater shaken.