I’m not a fan of war. I think I’m in the vast majority when I say that. Despite the best of intentions, war is ugly and far too often, innocent people die because of it. On top of that, we lose many of our best and brightest. Fighting in the military is a calling to which few answer and it affects those who do for the rest of their lives, some profoundly, others quite the opposite. So when we are allowed a look into this world as people who are so far removed from what is happening on the battlefield (if it’s really even called that any more), it is jarring, harrowing and overwhelming. There have been a glut of films released about US involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since our incursions in both places dating back to 2001 and 2003 respectively. Some have been pro-military action, others not so much and some have taken no stance but simply told us of the human element involved in the operations. Poignant and incredibly respectful, The Hornet’s Nest is the latter.
What starts out as a chance for ABC photojournalist Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos to reconnect after years of Mike being in the field, missing basically the whole of Carlos‘ life, while embedding with Marines and the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, evolves into much more by film’s end. Carlos, never having done any fieldwork as a journalist of any kind, literally learns in a trial by fire. As we watch, we see an almost micro-version of a father-son relationship – Mike as the grizzled veteran, teaching his son the ropes, baby steps at first and then full out as they dodge bullets, rockets, IEDs and mortar fire, all while traversing some of the most difficult terrain on earth (easily metaphors for life itself), until Carlos has learned the ropes enough that Mike must let his son go out on his own, listening over the radio as the company of Marines he is with engage in firefights in attempt of clearing an area of insurgents. And shortly thereafter, Carlos leaves to return home, now with the experience and understanding of what his father had done all the years he was away.
This is where the film takes a turn and focuses itself on the soldiers with whom Mike embeds with next, the 101st Airborne Division, in their quest to root out notorious Taliban and Al Qaeda operative Qari Zia Rahman (aka QZR) in Operation Strong Eagle III. In the lead-up to the actual battle, the soldiers become familiar to us through their interactions with Mike, each other and Afghan locals. We get to know them a little by this and become very invested in what they are doing and the outcome of the operation. The footage is raw and the men come under extremely heavy fire, under siege for 9+ days from all directions. We see the highs and the lows of battle during this time, adrenaline pumping all the while. And of course, in war, there are casualties and we witness the aftermath of the men losing six of their friends and fellow soldiers. We are once again reminded of the fragile nature of human existence and the extent that some go to protect other people’s right to exist.
The choice of editing of the Boettcher‘s footage into the film in a way that gave weight to their experience without overshadowing the work that was being done by the soldiers is a shining achievement of this film by directors David Salzburg and Christian Tureaud along with their editors Shawn Mathew and Jason Mergott. This allows the testimonials from Mike Boettcher spliced in between the war footage to carry that much more importance as he provided insight that might not have been evident in the footage itself.
The Hornet’s Nest is a tough and moving film that highlights courage, persistence and sacrifice. It is a worthy addition to the large number of documentaries about our recent wars and I hope that you check it out.
The film is now available in stores on Blu-Ray and DVD and is available on most digital and on-demand platforms.