BRITISH EXCLUSIVE – The Lone Captain

There is something serendipitous about my relationship with Restrepo. It’s as if this film and my destiny are intertwined. I first learnt of Sebastian Junger’s embed in the Korengal Valley in 2007, when BBC2’s The Culture Show invited me to review his latest tome, ‘War’, for a programme they were creating on modern war writing.

They sent me a copy in the post, and I duly began reading it. I wrote this review of it for the Army Rumour Service Book Club. Just as I had finished it, The Culture Show decided they did not need my review after all and there was “no need Gromit” for me to have bothered. Despite having co-(entirely)written a battlefield memoir, it’s a not a genre I would EVER read unless asked to by a high-brow, publicly funded, arts programme.

I was then approached by Dogwoof to attend a preview of it, and London City Mum and I embarked on our first ever date, sans Popcorn. I thought, at the time, it was an incredible film, but I have to confess that I was very nervous about seeing it. Not for the obvious reasons; live gunfights and soldiers getting killed, but because in the book the soldiers w*nk all the time. To the extent where they think it would be cool if they could bash one out while engaged in contact. As the film was billed as one of honesty, I was convinced that I would have to sit through footage of the soldiers constantly slapping the salami. I was, therefore, deeply relieved that this hadn’t made the final cut of the documentary, to such an extent that I wasn’t like the other forlorn shell-shocked figures that departed the cinema that day. In the end, I wrote this review – Men and War

Time passed, and I spoke with Anna, Dogwoof’s (the UK distribution company for the film) incredible leader and somehow, I ended up working on bigging up a documentary that I am absolutely convinced is going to win an Oscar. It was due to this monumental bigging up of an incredible film, (if you loved Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, or The Pacific, then you will definitely want to see) that I ended up in a Video Skype interview with Major Dan Kearney, the US Platoon Commander, featured in the film, at 2am, in the earliest hours of the morning last week.

In 2007, the then 27 year old, then Captain, was responsible for over 300 soldiers in the Korengal Valley, the most dangerous place in Afghanistan.

He’d tried to re-arrange the interview at the 11th hour, partly because he was digging deep, and talking to some Limey Doris, after a ball breaking day at work, somewhere in the deep south of the good ole US of A was not high on his list of priorities. I promised by email that I would warm up him gently, and relax him into the interview. I said, that in porn, I believed it was called ‘the Fluffer’. He had laughed [ha, ha, ha] so I was quietly confident that it would be ok.

We chatted easily. He promised me that he was very blunt, and that what you see is what you get. I told him about my fear of on-film bashing of the bishop and the ice was officially broken. As we explored some of the deeper issues, Major Dan told me that he didn’t really feel anymore. After his initial tour of Iraq, he had buried his emotions as a means of coping and he didn’t like to think about how many lives he may have taken.

He explained that the Korengal Valley was a very complex place, and they soon realised that it was actually dominated by rich gangster families that were trafficking illegally between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They didn’t want to be rescued by Americans that were supported by a Government that had taken away their main source of income, the timber trade, and were messing in a place where they weren’t welcome. The insurgents weren’t strictly Taliban, but gangsters that were fighting on their home turf, and angry. Part of the challenge was working with interpreters with a limited grasp of American, other than cussing and what they had learnt on films, so when he was trying to discuss with elders in a shura (council) the intricacies of politcial negotiation he was supported by the interpreter equivalent of Bart Simpson (my metaphor not his).

It was a lonely place for Major Dan, in the solitude of command, in the outpost from hell, being pounded daily by vicious, unstoppable, unforgiving insurgents. From what I can see from watching the film, he was wholly ill-equipped to deliver the task, which is no fault of his own. Should a 27 year old Captain be expected to negotiate with tribal elders over issues which he cannot control? I think not. Fundamentally, (and very over-simplified) his job was to hold the ground, build the road and manage the troops. In my mind, they could have done with an intermediary, someone like Benedict Allen.

Isolated Major Dan could show no fear to his men; he couldn’t tell his family, and he had no peers nearby to share the burden. From what he said, Junger and Hetherington were his lifeline – whenever they came to the outpost he would download to them. Maybe their presence on the mountain enabled him to push beyond his peers, before, and after, him. The respect, the friendship, that he has for them is without question – I think, genuinely, neither party, would have expected to have finished their journeys together as brothers but it seems that is how it has ended.

To close I asked Major Dan, “who would play you in the Hollywood blockbuster?”. I suggested, Mark Wahrlberg, initally he said, Matt Damon. Then he changed his mind, and said, Daniel Craig, and then he said, Jason Statham, like he was in Crank; he could go in there and hose them down with impunity – sometimes that was his fantasy.

To hear my interview with Major Dan Kearney – please watch the videos Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 1 (5 mins)

Part 2 (10 mins)

Restrepo is an amazing film. Emotionally, it’s not an easy film to watch but it’s an honest film. It’s a very watchable film. It’s a significant film that will make it’s stamp on how documentaries will be made in the future.

It is released in the UK on October 8th – you can see it here

On Tuesday, I am interviewing Tim Hetherington, the director, and Major Dan has given me a special insider question to ask him so stay tuned folks. πŸ™‚

I am not the only one talking about Restrepo. Linked below are what some mightier swords than I think:

Tom Coghlan – The Times

Christina Lamb – The Sunday Times

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23 thoughts on “BRITISH EXCLUSIVE – The Lone Captain

  1. You are right! This film has become part of your life for the moment. Great reviews & interview. Like Andrew, will look forward to the next instalment!

  2. It looks an incredible film – I’m shaking just from watching the trailer and feel like I’m belittling it by calling it a “film”; like it’s just another piece of entertainment. It so plainly isn’t.

  3. That sounds quite astonishing. I only know of Junger through the Perfect Storm, years ago. I’ll try and maketime to watch the interviews.

  4. Oh, our first date *sigh*…

    Great interview and I agree. Not a film for everyone but very thought-provoking and utterly mesmerising.
    I still talk about it today.

    And I’m sure that is not because you tried to snog me in the cinema.

    LCM x

  5. Clare, this is amazing! I love the trailer and the idea of the film and want to see it so badly (think you can organise a Finnish premier…?) and that interview was amazing! there was such emotion and honesty just in the interview that the thought of watching the film is actually a little frightening, to see the truth, see how it really is…it’ll be hard to watch i’m sure, but I also think it’s something we should all do. all of us who live in a nation where the men and women give their lives for ours, ought to be made to watch this and understand just what we are asking of these men and women.

    Utterly brilliant.

    • Thanks – I think everyone should watch it for many reasons but only because it’s time to stop burying our heads in the sand and thinking that war is somebody elses problem. It isn’t – it’s our problem and it is up to us to decide what is right for our future and our children’s future. But I am so pleased that you liked it and thank you as always for your support, without it I would be daily yo-yoing on the blogging bungy of egomaniacal self confidence and soul destroying self doubt! xxx

  6. See this is why I really need to get my laptop speakers fixed!
    Your description sounds great, though.
    I picked up the book at my parent’s a while back and have been looking for my own copy since. Only had a chance to read the first few pages and was hooked.
    Hubby has been sent the link to this post with the recommendation that the public library system purchase the dvd for their collections. So it’s had an impact already!

  7. Great interview, loved how it was so refreshingly honest and lacking in bs. Wow, how old was that guy? Did you say he was only about 30? Keen to see the film, will need to see where its showing near the wilds of Hampshire.

  8. Clare, I wasn’t able to watch the videos before because they were jamming up on my computer. But I was able to watch all of them right now and I honestly don’t know what to say. It made me feel really sad hearing this soldier talk about the war and how complicated it is and how impossible to solve. As an American, I must say I feel ashamed that my country feels the need to be at war in so many places around the world where we oftentimes cannot make a positive impact. At the same time, I honor and appreciate the soldiers who risk their lives in all these situations. People on every side of the equation need to be understood and respected. Major Dan spoke so sensitively about the people they were negotiating and fighting with. I was really impressed by everything he said and how hard he worked to try to find common ground. I’d love to see this movie in person. Can’t wait until it is out around here. Thanks for this wonderful in-depth review and the accompanying interviews, Clare. You are amazing.

    • *blush* Thanks!! But it’s good that we get the debate going. I don’t think you should be ashamed but I think you should ask your Government for a more intelligent, intuitive solution. I think it’s out on DVD in USA soon. xx

  9. Pingback: Three Milly Mums Restrepo Screening « Amodernmilitarymother's Blog

  10. Pingback: What Can We Do To Help The Troops In Afghanistan? | Note From Lapland

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