WHILE on patrol in the Kajaki region of Afghanistan on September 6, 2006, Lance Corporal Stuart Hale (Benjamin O’Mahony) jumps over a dry riverbed - and onto an old Soviet landmine.
This triggers an explosion and a long, violent day for a squad of British paratroopers as they mount a rescue mission. Outside help seems to be slowed down by NATO bureaucracy, or perhaps downright incompetence. What follows is a suspenseful and horrifically realistic re-creation of the stakes for these men as they prod the ground for mines.
Few images are as indelible as the sight of a man throwing his backpack onto a minefield, and then himself, in order to find a safe path to help injured friends. The film also has an authentic sense of the strange comedy of life when death is only a millimetre away.
“It’s like YMCA,” says one soldier, watching one of his comrades trying to mime a big ‘M’, to warn a pilot about the presence of mines.
The Chinook rescue helicopter actually makes things worse; the downdraft from the blades detonates another mine, causing more injuries. It’s now a race against time to treat the injured with dwindling medical supplies, and work out how to bring them back to safety.
Screenwriter Tom Williams and director Paul Katis have made a unique film about war; modern British combat is rarely shown in films, let alone with the intensity of Kajaki.
Literally and graphically, this is a shattering movie, which captures a real sense of fearful anticipation, so that you feel each gruelling second tick by.
It also honours Mark Wright (David Elliot), the 27 year old corporal from Edinburgh who was one of the first of the paras to sustain serious injuries, yet raised morale by encouraging his rescuers and calming other wounded men.
Not everything in Kajaki works; some of the acting is a little raw, and some of the dialogue is hard to catch. However the drama of its real-life events becomes gripping. As a step-by-fateful-step study of desperation, resolve and bravery, this is a difficult film to watch, but rightly so.