(Twice a year, On V takes an OnV-cation to recharge and connect with our families. We shall return after the New Year with "On V's Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2011". Hint: it probably has to do with Arabs and Spring.)
A long time ago a visitor to the website asked us, “I saw your critique of The Unforgiving Minute and am wondering, what books coming out of the Iraq and/or Afghanistan wars you'd recommend for a feature film?”
As struggling screenwriters who have read a ton of post-9/11 war memoirs, we definitely have suggestions. But first some qualifications:
First, Hollywood hasn’t made a good Iraq/Afghanistan war film. Yet. One is out there, it just hasn’t been made. You may be saying, “Whoa, what about the Hurt Locker?” One, read our review--and others--that felt it violated our maxim, “Tell a true war story.” Two, it left out one thing (hint: battles) that sort of define war films. More on this later.
Second, the current crop of Iraq war films is way too political. Way too many Iraq war films were anti-war films. This, understandably, turned off viewers. Blatant politicization goes both ways, including anti-war films like De Palma’s Redacted, where soldiers raped an Iraqi teenager, and pro-war films, like Peter Berg and Paramount’s upcoming Lone Survivor, which we’ve written about here.
Third, modern Iraq war films eschew tradition. There have been films on missing soldiers, stop-loss, Casualty Notification Officers, cover-ups, and rape. We haven’t actually seen a classic war film, a straight-up, traditional war film. A successful movie will do something deceptively simple: just present war as it is. No more, no less.
Of the two current wars, the one that lends itself best to making a classic war film is Afghanistan. The great film of that war won’t capture an entire tour, or even a campaign. It will be about a battle. Not the entire war, or an entire tour, but a single battle.
Our suggestion is the Battle of Wanat.
A turning point in the war in Afghanistan, for both the Army and America, the Battle of Wanat was the deadliest battle in Afghanistan until the helicopter crash last summer. Hundreds of Taliban fighters attacked a base that wasn’t even two days old, eventually breaching the perimeter. Over the next two hours, nine American soldiers lost their lives.
This conflict would make a perfect film. A group of soldiers fighting against overwhelming odds; it just screams cinematic. One Soldier holds his own against waves of attackers, whispering into his radio because the enemy were so close they could hear him. Another Soldier is hit by an RPG, and keeps fighting. Most of all, it is the turning point of the war in Afghanistan, the time when the rest of the country began to pay attention to a forgotten war.
On memoirs specifically, a few could make make good films:
Brandon Friedman’s The War I Always Wanted, spans the initial invasion of Afghanistan to the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Friedman learns that the war he always wanted isn’t the war he wanted at all. It has deep character development and great set-pieces, including the haunting image of a horse, stranded, running around a bombed out valley.
For a non-traditional route, which I don’t recommend, we would look at Kayla William’s Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in The US Army, about women on the modern battlefield. Again this violates our rules above, but it could work as a film.
Finally, we think Craig Mullaney’s The Unforgiving Minute could make a good war film, with changes. It depends on whether the film starts at West Point, or when he goes to Afghanistan. We would also change the tone--make it grittier--but it probably has the best starting point of any memoir.
My choices may seem odd. I had issues with Love My Rifle More Than You and The Unforgiving Minute. But there is an adage in Hollywood: bad books make great films, and great books make dull movies. So take these recommendations for what you will.