06 January 2009

Bravo Two Zero

Eerily Disturbing and Necessary Bravo Two Zero

By Kristin Battestella

Alright I confess, I was initially interested in the 1999 war drama Bravo Two Zero because of its star Sean Bean. This disturbing Gulf War film-based on the book by Andy McNab- however, transcends star power with its grit and scary realism.

SAS Sergeant Andy McNab (Bean) must take his team into Iraq to locate the crucial launchers and communication lines of Baghdad. When the mission is disastrously compromised, McNab and his men race to the Syrian border in hopes of rescue and safety. Unfortunately, McNab and two of his men are captured and sent to the bowels of an Iraqi prison.

There’s really no way around spoilers this time I suppose. Since he wrote a book based on his experiences, we know McNab survives his ordeal, and if we know he gets captured, then we also know the happy go luckily opening of the film will soon turn grim. In Bravo Two Zero, however, its not knowing what happens or why it happens, but the arduous getting there is how this film gets you. Knowing the mission will go downhill, knowing the team doesn’t make it to safety, knowing the torture McNab endures-these things are disturbing and so gut wrenching to us because these aren’t things we civilians are supposed to know. War is grand and heroic! Pretty uniforms and lots of medals, right? Bravo Two Zero begs to differ. Well known in print and on screen across the pond, I’m surprised Bravo Two Zero has received so little attention in the US.

The supporting cast is in fine fashion, even though I have no idea who most of them are. This support behind Bean looks the part of the banged up career soldier. None of them start off pretty, and they certainly don’t end up pretty. Likewise, McNab’s captors look and sound authentically Middle East, but their uniforms and dark prison tactics take on a Nazi-esque feeling. The look and feel of Bravo Two Zero looks authentic enough to me. Experienced viewers or modern veterans might be able to spot errors in tactics or technology, but the guns, desert gear, and drab locations work. Compared to big budget productions, Bravo Two Zero may seem dirty or small scale, but I imagine things aren’t prim and proper in the trenches. Some Americans might be confused by the dialogue or Bean’s narration as McNab, but the wondrous subtitles solve these quirks.

Naturally, this film is not for the faint of heart. While perhaps worthwhile in high school classrooms for viewing and discussion, Bravo Two Zero has extensive torture scenes that should not be viewed by the squeamish, children, or anyone with post traumatic stress disorder. Shedding light on the underground of war is important, yes, but no less easy to stomach.

Of course if you don’t like Sean Bean, you might not like Bravo Two Zero-although any naysayer of the oft villain from Patriot Games and Goldeneye might be pleasantly surprised at the tour de force portrayal given here. He’s popular for his rugged good looks and bad ass personas, but its very easy to root for Bean during this two hours of abuse and dirty shame endured by McNab. It’s astonishing the pain McNab endures-mentally and physically. The things done to him; the things he made to do. Bean displays the strength and courage that the real life McNab clung to in order to survive. In my viewings, there are times I’m amazed McNab survived all he did. Bean’s by no means a glamorous actor, but I can’t see Orlando Bloom being hosed down in a torture scene. There’s nudity yes and veiled sexual content, but if you’re looking for the sexy loverboy Bean, you won’t find him here. I’m surprised Bean received no accolades or awards for Bravo Two Zero. Indeed die hard fans of the Beanster may find this simulated torture too tough to watch, but his acting chops shine through.

Contrary to my husband’s beliefs, I don’t buy every Sean Bean movie. I do have to be interested in the subject matter, you know. What struck me about Bravo Two Zero was its real life story stemming from the First Gulf War. Not many Gulf War pictures seem to be made. Three Kings with George Clooney’s side war story of gold? Courage Under Fire’s brief segments of female war action? Black Hawk Down captures the military mistakes of the time with clarity not seen since Platoon, but it’s about the US’s ill fated plans in Somalia, not Iraq. Bravo Two Zero is unique in that it gives us a realistic portrayal of the first Gulf War and it gives it to us with some SAS flair. Sometimes us Americas forget that our allies don’t exactly have it easy when they join us.

Bravo Two Zero is on the one hand very nineties. The music, the style, the clothes; and very British as well, in slang and feel. Viewing director Tom Clegg’s (Sharpe) vision today is, however, eerie and all too familiar at the same time. If Saddam Hussein was not referred to in the present tense during the film’s news footage, the audience could swear this is a tale from our contemporary action in the Gulf. It’s a little frightening to realize these things happened then, they are most likely still happening now, and since these last two wars have not shown us the error of our ways, it will probably happen again.

Despite its ruthlessness, Sean Bean fans will no doubt tune in to Bravo Two Zero. Action and war movies fans should also take a gander. There’s plenty of background material and debate on McNab to follow up with as well. It certainly isn’t pretty but Bravo Two Zero tells an important tale of grit and modern warfare. Pick up this necessary and affordable DVD today.

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