Eye For Film >> Movies >> 31 North 62 East (2009) Film Review
31 North 62 East
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Against the backdrop of unpopular wars and domestic political corruption scandals, a new type of British film is emerging - the aggrieved former soldier story, similar to some of what was seen in America in the Vietnam era and, very occasionally, around the end of the Second World War. Though they are not all made by soldiers, these films tell their stories from soldiers' perspectives; proud, steadfast, but underscored by a tremendous sense of loss. There's a deep distrust of the political establishment and a feeling that too many things have gone wrong to be explained by mere coincidence.
31 North 62 East (the title refers to a location in Afghanistan) is such a film. It centres on a prime minister, desperate for re-election, who makes the decision to sell out one of the British Army's own units to pacify a sheikh angry about the death of his fanatic son and thereby to secure an arms deal. Unfortunately for the conspirators, the captain of the unit survives, enduring months of torture, whilst her sister, herself a former soldier, pulls strings to arrange a special forces rescue. Cue assassination plots and an increasingly bizarre scheme to expose the rottenness at the heart of the establishment.
None of this is really new territory, but it's a bold thing to take on for a small team of British filmmakers working on a tiny budget, and in many ways they've done well. The casting of women in such strong central roles is refreshing and works well, making this seem more like a slice of reality than the Hollywood version. They certainly know what they're up against - there's a cute reference to Gillian Anderson's performance in Straightheads - and the whole is pleasingly free of any shrieking or similar histrionics, though at times the characters seem to react a little too calmly to news of the loss of loved ones. Still, this approach lends a certain grittiness to the torture scenes, though some viewers, having been trained to expect a different type of onscreen behaviour, will find them unconvincing.
Unfortunately the film suffers from many of the common problems associated with inexperience and a lack of firm editorial guidance. We don't get strong enough introductions to some of the characters so that, as the plot becomes more convoluted, parts of it become hard to follow (or we don't know why we should care); passages of blatant exposition don't really resolve this. Some of the acting is painfully hammy and many of the Afghani characters are depressingly stereotypical, right down to having pantomime villain laughs. It's a little uncomfortable watching the film's uncritical portrayal of soldiers pretending to be journalists, thereby putting journalists' lives in danger, at a time when two French special operatives have been arrested in Somalia for precisely that reason. There's also a really badly judged musical number at a pivotal point in the heroine's emotional journey which is likely to have a good part of the audience doubling up with entirely inappropriate laughter. It's the equivalent of an Eighties rock music soundtrack - pretty much never a good idea.
Underneath these problems, however, an edgy little thriller is struggling to get out. It addresses subjects that many in the audience will feel strongly about and there's no doubt that, as such, it will enjoy a good bit of support. Its politics may be naive, as one character points out, but they're not unsympathetic, and it certainly can't be faulted on ambition.Reviewed on: 15 Sep 2009