Armadillo (15)

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The ViewNewcastle Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/04/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

Impressively made documentary that puts you right on the front line, with all the attendant adrenaline-laced terror that that involves.

What's it all about?
Directed by Janus Metz, Armadillo, like last year's Restrepo, is an embedded documentary that follows a group of young Danish soldiers (weedy-looking Mads "Mini", strapping blond Daniel Olby, Asian medic Kim Bakerod and excitable Rasmus Munke) on their six month deployment to Forward Operating Base Armadillo in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Metz's cameras stay with the group every step of the way, from adrenaline-fuelled gun-battles with the Taliban to long periods of downtime punctuated by porn and video chats with friends and family back home.

The Good
Metz eschews the standard documentary format (there's no voiceover and no talking head interviews) in favour of a full-on fly-on-the-wall approach, presented without commentary. His access to the unit as a whole is extraordinary, not least because his presence is never acknowledged by anyone on screen.

Where the film really comes into its own is during the battle sequences, with Metz using a series of helmet-mounted cameras to take you right into the action; the results are loud, chaotic, terrifying and harrowing, and you flinch every time a bullet whizzes past. In addition, Metz captures several haunting images that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema: the weirdly blissed-out expression on a wounded soldier's face and most notably, a pile of post-grenade corpses in a ditch that leads to a controversy back in Denmark over whether or not the insurgents were illegally killed. (Olby is shown announcing in a debriefing that “We liquidated them in the most humane way possible.”) The Bad
Metz's stated intention with the film was to investigate the desire amongst soldiers to return to war, almost as if war itself had addictive qualities. To that end, he captures the excitement, machismo and the sense of camaraderie but it's unlikely anyone seeing Armadillo will be rushing out to enlist afterwards.

In addition, the film is so slickly shot and scored that it often feels like a faux-documentary drama, which backfires a little in that you start wondering if it's really authentic. On top of that, there's so much gunfire and running about in the middle section that it gets both repetitive and frustrating, since you, understandably, never see the enemy.

Worth seeing?
Armadillo is an impressively made documentary that's by turns exhilarating, harrowing, shocking, depressing and ultimately moving. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 12/05/2012 10:29

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