The Patrol

Director: Tom Petch.

Starring: Nav Sidhu, Ben Righton, Oliver Mott, Alex McNally, Daniel Fraser, Nicholas Beveney, Owain Arthur.

Running Time: 83 minutes.

Certificate: 15.

Synopsis: Afghanistan, Helmand Province becomes one of the most dangerous places on Earth as the British Army deploys into the Taliban heartland. An overextended British Army patrol struggles to keep it together under increasingly tough conditions.

In 2014 the scheduled pull-out of British troops from operations in Afghanistan is set to be completed, 13 years and 447 lives after the mission began. Many within the Army and those who have studied the mission have been deeply critical of the operations. British writer/director Tom Petch served in the British Army for eight years and his debut feature (the first British fictional film to focus on the conflict) follows an isolated patrol group who begin to question their role in the war when problems hit.

From the beginning camera shots sweeping over the barren Afghan landscape, discomfort radiates from these soldiers as it’s made clear this is not somewhere the armed forces could, or should, feel safe. Trying to keep morale high through the camaraderie of insults and jokes only serves to highlight just how difficult a situation they have been put in when the stakes are raised and tensions set in. The patrol struggles and is hit by casualties. Taking place in the early part of the Afghan mission, Petch is keen to highlight the problems with the initial deployments and how a lack of the best weaponry and equipment available hindered the British troops and led to a higher level of casualties than necessary.

The running time of only 83 minutes, together with a quick pace throughout, combine to polarise with the pace of the mission which is slow with little progress, one of the sources of frustration for the patrol. A young and relatively unknown cast allows audiences to be able to connect with this patrol group and the thousands of others they represent. This could be your neighbour, friend or relative – war doesn’t distinguish.

Petch’s beliefs about the Afghan operations are very clear from the start, and in making this feature he looked to emphasise the frugality of this mission and many others like it. Indeed, with the final shots of the film mirroring the opening ones, we are reminded just how much is unchanged by the soldiers’ presence. The locals still ride their bikes, the children still kick around their football and the Taliban are unmoved, no ground having been lost. The ultimate price is paid for an unchanged picture, and all that’s left is for Petch to have you ask yourself, “was it worth it?”

THE PATROL has been likened to Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning juggernaut THE HURT LOCKER, and with the same unwavering tension and full-on cinematography it’s clear why. What THE PATROL manages with a budget 15x smaller is a testament to Petch’s talent. Nominated for a British Independent Film Award and winner of this year’s ‘Film of the Festival’ at Raindance, whatever your view on the war on Afghanistan, this movie offers an informative, gritty and engaging take on the issues.

[usr=4] THE PATROL is released in select UK cinemas on Friday 7th February, 2014.