« Getting Rid of the Ch… | Home | On V's Most Thought P… »

The War Film On V Would Make

(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.

nineteen comments

So why don’t you write a screenplay about Wanat? Since you’re screenwriters and all?

The main piece of advice we have read is taht to write about real people you need life rights, which means you need an entertainment lawyer, which means you need money. In other words, it is easier to have a production company/published work before you could really take that on.

So we would love to, but it is hard to do unless you have more established connections, which we are building up.

How could you possibly do a movie about Wanat and not have it political? Would you totally ignore the aftermath when Gold Star families demanded an investigation, ultimately pressured upon the Army by a US Senator. Then having the results of that investigation and punishment aftermath turned on its head? Wanat represents to many the political override of a decision that wasn’t popular at the detriment of KIA families who were basically told to shutup and go home.

@ Derek – The movie should be about the battle itself, not the aftermath. The good news would be that, if a movie were made, the aftermath would get all the attention in the world.

That said, why the soldiers were ordered to go, the mission parameters, etc would be shown in the film.

You’re missing perhaps the biggest one of them all: Sean Naylor’s Not A Good Day To Die. You want a battle?

How about Neil Roberts, a dogged DEVGRU operator falling from the chopper, and fighting to the death all alone on the peak of Takur Ghar vs 50-plus al Qaeda and Taliban fighters? Then, how about his Teammates and Rangers coming to his aid only to be shot down on Takur Ghar, and forced into a fight for their lives against al Qaeda? If you want a classic battle, how about the giant clusterf*ck that was Operation Anaconda, and the massive courage of those men on Takur Ghar?

This would be a fantastic war film, as well as a great insight into America’s shadowy Special Operations world. That video game Medal Of Honor was horrible, but with the right budget, actors, director, screenplay, etc. this movie could be even bigger, and more meaningful than Black Hawk Down.

I guess my preference for Wanat over Anaconda comes from the larger meaning of the battle. At the time, Anaconda justified the US invasion. It seemed like we had essentially won.

However, we didn’t. We stayed in Afghanistan and Wanat happened. If anything, Wanat captures the mood of the Afghanistan war: we didn’t really win and Afghanistan is a messy, messy war.

We have a larger paper on Anaconda and some other stuff we hope to write someday too. If that ever happens, it will explain a lot more of our thoughts.

If anything, Anaconda IS an example of how messy Afghanistan is, and how we “didn’t really win.” THOUSANDS of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters (including bin Laden) escaped as a result of the mistakes in the organization of the chain of command.

I prefer the heroics of SEAL Neal Roberts, and the surrounded QRF Rangers led by Nate Self personally. Plus, just IMAGINE the visuals Hollywood could deliver in the mountains when Razor 01 gets shot down, and the ensuing hellish firefight.

Perhaps following all the background detail on TF Rakkison and the chain of command that Naylor goes into should be abbreviated, but a movie on Takur Ghar in particular would be MORE than worth the price of admission.

Oh, and I don’t know of any books in particular that go into this, but the Second Battle of Fallujah (2004) would perhaps be the “biggest battle” if that’s what you’re looking for. Would be hard to condense into a 2 hour film, though.

Last one. After research Wanat more, and reading the “About” tab, no wonder you prefer Wanat: that was your unit, and you may even have been there yourself, no?

First, yeah I was in the ROCK. I wasn’t at Wanat, and I only heard about it second hand, so it is obviously part of the reason I am drawn to that battle. I won’t deny that.

Also, I’m not saying Anaconda wouldn’t work, just that I am not drawn to it as much as Wanat. Saying it would be the “second best war film” is still recommending it, just not as much as Wanat. Again, though, I think dealing with special operations distracts from the true ethos of the American military, which is the citizen soldier. Sure, our special operators are citizens, but not like the men who were drafted into WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq/Afghanistan, which were primarily young men directly out of high school.

Nobody was drafted into Iraq/Afghanistan.

I like this debate. You see, I would argue our Special Operators are the EPITOME of the greatness of our country, and more specifically, our military. These men are the elite .001% of the population. Between their intellect, athleticism, and determination they could be professional athletes, rocket scientists, business executives: making hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. Instead, they hear the “Call” of their country at need, and use their unique skills for the betterment of all of us, even at the risk of their lives and limbs. And the repayment? $25,000 a year.

Those men are HEROES, and are the reason most, including myself, are so attracted to their stories. People are attracted to Leonidas, Achilles, Hercules, not the “average” soldier that fought alongside them. SOF members truly are the glue that holds together our military, and country.

Again, just my $00.02. Up for debate.

Right I was using short hand about the drafting. However, the bulk of our military still tends to come from not the top 20% of wealth earners in our society. Most soldiers aren’t drafted; most still don’t have any other very good options.

As to your opinions about special operators, they are what they are. My experiences with special operators make me feel they are not much more, if any, special than regular soldiers. They have very, very good marketing, though. And the Achilles of this war is more like Sgt Dakota Meyers or Sgt Sal Giunta than it is a special operator. Further, these wars will be won or lost by regular soldiers who complete more than 99 percent of all missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Winning depends on that bulk of our infantry, combat arms, and support soldiers, not the small special parts.

“Most soldiers aren’t drafted.” Try NO soldiers are drafted. There hasn’t been a draft since Vietnam. I will agree that the rich do not tend to serve anymore, but there is not a single member of our military today that was drafted.

They may not “seem” special in person, agreed. On the exterior they look very ordinary besides the fact that they are very obviously in great physical shape. The difference is between their ears. That drive, can’t quit attitude, intelligence, resourcefulness, are what makes the difference. They may seem “ordinary” to you, but remember that over 80 of the missions, but they aren’t getting 99 of our intel is acquired by the ODAs of US Special Forces (Green Berets). 80%. SF is less than a tenth of a percent of all our ground forces, and THAT’S the type of results they can deliver. One ODA can raise a battalion-sized force of indigenous fighters (train the ANA) so that conventional troops may come home. The average Ranger and SEAL deployment is 6 months… and in those 6 months they average 3 times as many missions as the average Army or Marine unit on a standard 11 month rotation.

I respect the hell out of men like Dakota Meyer and Sal Giunta, and their personal sacrifices, and those of our other conventional troops. However, to ignore the body of work that our SOF units take on for their small size, is an injustice. One SEAL Team, Ranger Company, SF ODA can do the job of entire battalions. No, the SOF operators, however “glorified” they may be, ARE the ones leading the way. USSOCOM is Achilles, whether the conventional side likes it or not. Notice the draw down of conventional forces? Notice the equal and opposite reaction of increased deployments of SOF units? Tells you something.

Obviously, I know we have an all volunteer military. That said, the soldiers who interest me are the 90 of intel coming from SF ODAs. 100% hog wash. Not true. Remember: I served as an intel officer with an SF battalion. The other facts you cited about special opeartions are about as true as that: they come from books that pump up the special operators of the world without actually adhering to the facts.

So we are now off the topic of this post. So unless you have more comments about the movie you want to make, I say we leave this discussion about SF as an agreement to disagree.

I emailed your response as requested. Back on topic: Post-9/11 war movies we’d like to see.

In my email I gave you the DIRECT sources (from the units themselves/ex-members/senior military officials, not some Fox News hack) for my numbers. They check out true. Agreement to disagree is cool with me. I’m not looking for a fight.

Both Takur Ghar and Wanat would make great movies if done the right way. I think we can agree there.

My last post on this article as I’ve said what I needed. I reread my post and I just wanted to clear up some confusion: I flipped the numbers so it makes no sense, shit grammar. Meant to say that SF collects 80 percent of the intel on the ground, despite as you say not doing 99 percent of the missions. It came out sounding like SF gets 99 percent of intel, which of course is not true. My B.

[Ed. Note: I fixed Sean’s post because our system deletes percentage symbols. We are working to fix it.)

I don’t know if it makes any difference but my objection to movies featuring either the super soldiers or Wanat is that for civilians who see them it will reinforce the idea that we really won the important part of the conflict in Afghanistan. The fact that the country fell back into the hands of the Taliban will be sort of an afterthought.

I would like to see a movie more from an Afghan point of view. Sort of like an Afghan version of Bing West’s The Village but the main characters are Afghans and the Americans support. Training, the big battle, the win; but then the Americans leave too soon and the Taliban throat cutters and their ISI case officers are still in the hills.

That has probably happened, or will.

Carl, I don’t know if you read our pitch for an adaptation of Blood Meridian in Iraq (sort of what Apocalypse Now did for Vietnam), but that could get much closer to what you are pitching. Also, for Wanat to be a great war film, it would have to emphasize that we didn’t win that battle. Not even close. We didn’t quite lose, but we didnt’ quite win. It was just ugly.

Also, Eric has argued for more books from Iraq/Afghanistan perspectives, but I don’t think enough great ones are out there yet. The main problem though is your story would just take more than two hours to tell. So maybe an HBO mini series?

I didn’t read the Blood Meridian adaption idea but will try to find it. I haven’t read Blood Meridian either so I am a bit handicapped.

You are right. That type of story would take more than two hours to tell so a mini-series would be a good format. Lonesome Dove, which I consider the all time best western ever made, was a mini-series so that format works. Using fiction to tell the story and incorporating the experiences and knowledge of many people, Afghan, American, Pakistani etc could do the job well. Lonesome Dove again is a good example of that. McMurtry used a lot of things that had happened to Kit Carson, Charles Goodnight and other people to build his story.

Why adapt a story written by somebody else? All you guys who have been there have seen and done things that nobody could make up. Just use those to tell the story.

For me the critical thing though is the story has to mostly revolve around Afghans. There is a Korean War movie called Tae Guk Gi made by Koreans a few years ago with almost all Korean characters. It was a very powerful movie that for the first time (and I’m old) made me realize that Korea was about Korea and Koreans and not us.

I don’t know if that would sell or could be done but that is what I’d like to see.