Hell And Back Again captures tense moments like this scene of a man gathering his possessions during an assault operation in Afghanistan.
HELL AND BACK AGAIN (Danfung Dennis). 88 minutes. Opens Friday (August 24). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
It turns out there was somewhere to take the boots-on-the-ground documentary after Restrepo and Armadillo after all.
Winner of two prizes at Sundance and nominated for last year's doc feature Oscar, this harrowing study of the human cost of the Afghanistan war plays out in two discrete timelines. In one, a platoon of U.S. Marines clashes with Taliban guerrillas; in the other, a few months later, Sgt. Nathan Harris struggles through the gruelling rehabilitation process after being shot in an ambush.
Director Danfung Dennis, best known as a war photographer, has a terrific eye; this is one of the best-looking docs I've seen in years. But it's also emotionally immediate and formally accomplished, with confident transitions between the two time frames that bring us closer and closer to the struggling Harris.
Not many docs address the disconnection and culture shock that comes with a veteran's return home, and Dennis spends a lot of the Stateside sequences watching Harris try to adjust to life off the battlefield - which involves plenty of therapy, medication and a great many attempts by his wife, Ashley, to even begin to understand what he's going through. The awful thing of it is, neither she nor we ever will.