Janus Metz's Armadillo puts viewers on the front lines in Afghanistan, following a Danish army unit over the course of one tour of duty in a land where the sky is gray during the day and rust-colored at night—and the lens flare comes out green. Color-corrected to resemble a contemporary combat narrative and emotionally double-underlined by a score that shrilly insists on the folly of war, Armadillo alternates between scenes of tedium on base and wildly dangerous raids, with the inadvertent effect that viewers get hungry for a little combat to alleviate the monotony. The novelty of seeing foreign troops at war should draw military buffs and those interested in the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but otherwise audience response will be muted.
Metz picks up the trail at home in Denmark as soldiers say farewell to their families. One attempts to explain why he's chosen to join the army—for the experience, adventure and camaraderie—but political motivations, if any, are kept offscreen. On the ground, the Danes kill time by cleaning their weapons and watching porn in huddled groups. Despite some desultory interactions with the locals (all of whom fear the Taliban and refuse to cooperate), the emphasis is firmly on boredom and battle.
With perspective firmly confined to the soldiers, Armadillo has inevitably invited many comparisons to Restrepo, last year's Oscar nominated documentary about Western forces trying to gain ground in Afghanistan. But Restrepo is by far the better film: its portrait of troop culture in the barracks was livelier and more interesting, suggesting how the same energies fed by combat are appeased in repose. Armadillo doesn't draw much of a link between how the men act on the base and in the battlefield. Also unhelpful is Uno Helmersson's pushy score, a sad sprawl of strings that encourages ominous anticipation from the very beginning, as if this were Platoon and Barber's "Adagio for Strings" all over again.
It may be churlish to decry war footage gained at obvious personal risk, but where Restrepo had the fearless filmmakers embedded alongside the troops, Armadillo's battlefield chaos (some of which was captured by attaching cameras to soldiers' helmets) grows redundant and unilluminating. For all the rawness, there's a sense—between the color-correction, the score and the aggressively repetitive structure—that raw footage is being manipulated into a familiar, conventional shape. Towards the end, events pick up interest when the possibility of an investigation into inappropriate battlefield conduct is raised. "No one knows what it was really like," argues one soldier about outsiders criticizing their conduct, but the same is ultimately true for viewers as well.
Distributor: Lorber Films
Director: Janus Metz Pedersen
Producers: Ronnie Fridthjof, Sara Stockmann
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: April 15 NY