To Hell and Back Again
Directed by Danfung Dennis. With Sgt. Nathan Harris. Distributed by New Video Group. 1 hr. 28. In English and Pashtu with subtitles. No MPAA rating (intense warfare, violence, profanity). Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse
Hell and Back Again, a superb, violent, jarring and daring documentary about the war in Afghanistan, lays bare the truth of war - its hellish quality - with such power, you're not likely to look at this, or any other conflict, the same way again.
Photographer Danfung Dennis' feature debut chronicles one Marine's struggle on the battlefield with stunning, on-the-run battle footage. Dennis, who was embedded with a Marine unit in 2009, attaches himself to 25-year-old Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris as he and his men engage the Taliban. One Marine is killed. Harris sustains a near-fatal gunshot wound that shatters his hip and leg.
Switching back and forth between the lethal action and its aftermath, the film follows Harris as he returns to his small-town life in North Carolina with his wife, Ashley, and their two dogs. Feeling he no longer belongs at home - or anywhere - Harris goes through a painful, and at times ugly, readjustment.
The scenes at home feel as harrowing as any from the battlefield. Dennis is equally direct, blunt, and fearless as he shows the effect of the war on Harris' body and soul.
Dennis has no political ax to grind. His message is straightforward and terrifying: There's no reprieve from war's infernal clutches. Not in Afghanistan. Not in North Carolina.
- Tirdad Derakhshani