Trivia The film set domestic box office record in Russia, in 2005, generating $7,700,000 in five days. It surpassed Turetskii gambit (2005) in October 2005 to become the highest-grossing movie in post-communist Russia.
In reality, only 6 of 39 soviet soldiers from the 9th company were killed on hill 3234. There were over 200 dead on the opposite side.
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9th Company (2005)
9th Feb 07
Based on real events that devastatingly culminated on 8th January 1989 on the Djardan "3234" Heights of Afghanistan, 9th Company follows the ill-fated fortunes of a small group of young Soviet soldiers, from the trials of boot camp to their arrival in the heart of the war zone and the climactic, bloody battle that made them heroes.
Review Probably the Most Realistic War Film about the Russian Occupation of Afghanistan, Ever!
Okay, I know it’s a big bold claim and I realise that I have to back this up, so read on. 9th Company was released in Russia in September 2005 and finally it’s come to these shores. Vladimir Putin said of it "Perhaps like any work of art this is not a piece of life but a creative work. But I think it is very close to life, at least judging from what I know and heard," and it promises to turn out to be a gritty true story portrayal of a group of conscripts and their experience of a war that the world prefers to forget.
A directorial debut for Fyodor Bandarchuk, he wanted to shoot a ”major, large scale film and one about war, and, and, lastly one which concerned my own generation.” Has he achieved this? Does the film embrace the staccato manner that encompasses the war film genre and typifies the great war films of cinema? Is this a film to rival such Russian classics as Come and See or The Ascent?
9th Company’s story begins with the confusion of men being separated from their families and partners in deepest darkest Siberia (well it’s night time) - the initial disorganisation and chaos that mirrors young men on the cusp of their own internal battle of becoming men. We’re introduced to the motley crew of young guys who have decided that Afghanistan is the place to volunteer for, a group that doesn’t disappoint in the form of clichés, amongst which there is the main protagonist Vorobey (played excellently by Alexi Chadov), Gioconda the artist, Khokhol the troublesome one, Stas the rebel, Lyutaev the handsome one, Dygalo the family man and so on. Although initially this doesn’t sound too good, it’s no Dirty Dozen and they do illustrate the broad diasporas that makes up a conscript army. What follows is the usual dehumanisation hair-cut scene, the process of making a man into a soldier, employed with some wit and after a confrontation, the scene ends with a dark sense of foreboding for what is yet to come.
The film then trundles off to the boot camp, which is where the characters of the main ensemble begin to grow and the viewer starts to warm to individuals. What follows is the familiar pastiche akin to Full Metal Jacket - the Warrant Officer, a Veteran of the war, who wants to encourage the group ethos via repetitive drill, a hilarious scene involving plastic explosives, light insults, running up a hill and rare, if viscous beatings (although if you want to find out how harsh the Russian army can be, try typing “beatings conscripts Russian army” into Google).
Surprisingly the men bond, even to the point of all sharing the local nymphomaniac in the form of Snow White. So not only have you got a well-oiled fighting machine and a decent blonde with her baps out, you also get the whole homoerotic brothers in arms myth dispelled, although sloppy twelve’s just doesn’t have that special appeal to me….
Then off to Afghanistan we merrily go, to one of the most outstanding scenes in the film, the gritty tin-pot hole that is Kabul International Airport. Men rushing around, clapped out equipment and the threat of attack is played well, but when an inevitable cliché rears it’s ugly head, I found myself thinking ‘Oi! No mate! Don’t give away your lucky charm!’. The group, which we are familiar with gets split up, the lads are assigned to particular grizzled veterans, the script sticks with the 9th Company and the true horrors of fighting a war in such inhospitable mountainous terrain then unfolds.
The film glimpses at potential greatness, with the camera panning across stunning vistas of mountains, but alas the footage must have been butchered on the cutting room floor, as the shots rarely linger for more than a moment - an opportunity, I feel, missed. The story progresses into an unfolding of the bitter realities of guerrilla warfare, a populace that only know war and an army in disarray, with young men caught in the middle of an alien country trying to survive.
The stop, start, scatological story line, so atypical of war films kicks in and kicks in well, the characters develop further, we now see their despair at the situation, the brutality of both sides and how they come to grips with their surroundings, with an emphasis on shock, teamwork and acceptance. With gritty battle scenes, minimalist use of CGI and good acting, 9th Company almost hits the spot, yet the script at times sells it short, even to the point that I felt partly let down by the final battle scene.
On the whole 9th Company could have been up there with the likes of Das Boot, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Europa, Europa, however the glorious Mosfilm is no more. For sure director Bandarchuk never sets out to produce a film on those ideals with a more hard hitting anti-war sentiment – overall I think it’s reflective of the current mood of Russia, especially considering their involvement in Chechnya.
The film is made in a very much Hollywood style (you can play a game of spot the cliché if you must), it’s a hybrid of Platoon / Hamburger Hill and many others. For this reason I think it is a bit of a let down as a film, probably my expectations were too high, although in comparison with the Hollywood stable it’s up there amongst them, giving as good as it gets.
The cast all work well with the materials at hand and I found some degree of empathy for their plight. As for realism and being true to a story, well there’s a spectrum of how real ‘reality’ is for war films, for example U571 – it wasn’t the Yanks, but the British on the submarine and it wasn’t the first enigma machine to be captured (that was done by the Poles on dry land!) – and A Bridge Too Far – where Major Harry Carlyle (advisor to the film) was upset by Christopher Good’s performance of him in one scene in particular, when he was running between buildings as ”I never ran at all, I didn’t want the Germans to think I that was scared of them”. 9th Company falls somewhere in between, especially as the main incident on which the 9th Company is hinged on, in reality, there were fewer casualties and I’m sure the Mujahadin wouldn’t do an impression of slowly walking out of the trenches.
Overall I’d say 9th Company is a decent war flick romp, with some good acting and a different setting. It easily could have been better, but doesn’t fail to deliver and if you’re looking for a bit of action, you can’t go far wrong. Oh and my bold statement at the beginning? Well the only other film on wide release about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is Rambo III, so I rest my case!
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