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There’s an undeniably poignant aspect to Greg Barker’s documentary chronicling the exploits of two U.S. Special Forces teams sent to Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Detailing how roughly 100 men — acting in coordination with Afghan allies including the Northern Alliance and forces led by the country’s future president Hamid Karzai — dealt near crippling blows against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Legion of Brothers also serves as a reminder that their covert missions were not conclusive and that American soldiers are still dying in that country 16 years later.
One of the more effective entries in what has essentially become a documentary subgenre, the film focuses on the surviving Green Berets, who recall their experiences with a combination of pride and sorrow. In an example of the former, one commander declares, “I was the greatest tactician for Direct Action that there was.” The latter is exemplified by memories of an errant airstrike in which American bombs were mistakenly dropped on one of the teams, resulting in several casualties. “The first Americans killed in Afghanistan were killed by their own people,” one soldier bitterly recalls.
After establishing the soldiers’ motivations for joining the military by including gung-ho clips of John Wayne in The Green Berets, the doc chronicles their harrowing experiences that include joining the members of the Northern Alliance on horseback to go after their targets. Commenting on the unconventional mode of transportation, a commanding officer marvels that he was “leading a 19th century cavalry.”
Besides extensive contemporary interviews, the film includes archival footage and the occasional dramatic recreation to relate its sometimes convoluted tale. Viewers may at times be hard-pressed to keep track of what exactly is going on, but the essential truths about combat, including post-traumatic stress, are vividly conveyed. The mistakes and miscalculations that increasingly occurred as the Bush administration ramped up the war and expanded it to Iraq also become painfully clear.
Legion of Brothers dramatically illustrates how the men still vividly recall their exploits even a decade and a half after the events and how closely bound together they remain. Gathering together for backyard barbecues and camping trips, their continuing solidarity and loyalty to each other amply justifies the film’s title.
Production companies: Passion Pictures, CNN Films
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Greg Barker
Producers: John Battsek, Greg Barker, Peter Bergen, Tresha Mabile
Executive producers: Amy Entelis, Vinnie Malhotra
Director of photography: Frank-Peter Lehmann
Editor: Robin Schwartz
Composer: Philip Sheppard