The moving documentary The Hornet’s Nest is a boots-on-the-ground look at America’s war in Afghanistan. This journalistic, shaky-cam video diary covers a couple of years of being embedded with the 101st Airborne in a dangerous and remote northern province. That not all the soldiers make it out alive — including Army staff sergeant and Cleburne High School grad Bryan Burgess — makes it all the more affecting.
The journalists behind and in front of the camera are ABC-TV war correspondent Mike Boettcher and his adult son, Carlos, who was not a professional reporter at the time. But they thought that spending a year together would give Carlos some insight into what had kept his dad away from home so much over the years and give them a chance for some father-son bonding.
The first half of the film focuses on them as they wrestle with near-death experiences while trying to tell stories about soldiers’ lives in a hostile, lawless frontier. Their reporting ultimately would earn them an Emmy Award.
The second part, after Carlos returns to the U.S., focuses on firefights the 101st found itself in that would take the lives of some of its members. While not visually graphic, it’s still a haunting reminder of the capriciousness and cruelty of war.
The Hornet’s Nest doesn’t attempt to put the war in context. There is no history or politics beyond the generic “support our troops.” Instead, directors David Salzberg and SMU grad Christian Tureaud — using the Boettchers’ footage as well as some from captured Taliban cameras — just drop the viewer in the midst of a hellish landscape.
Still, this grunt’s-eye view brings the reality home.
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THE HORNET’S NEST
* * * *
Directors: David Salzberg, Christian Tureaud
Cast: Mike Boettcher, Carlos Boettcher
Rated: R (strong language throughout)
Running time: 93 min.