Pros: Well made tense thriller.
Cons: One wonders how true it is.
In January 1991, a patrol of eight British Special Forces soldiers found themselves hundreds of miles behind enemy lines in Northern Iraq. Cut off, and unable to communicate with their HQ, surrounded by literally hundreds of enemy soldiers their actions over a couple of days would go down in the annals of modern warfare.
Bravo Two Zero is the movie adaptation of the book of the same name by Andy McNabb, a former Sergeant in the 22nd Special Air Service (SAS), and commander of the patrol. Both the book and movie recount McNab's version of events during the First Gulf War in 1991.
Soon after the war, and the publication of his best selling memoirs McNabb left the British Army became a writer of action adventure novels. In recent years there have been a many questions raised as to the accuracy of McNabs account of events. At least two other books to date have been written about the patrol that call into question what actually happened.
One written by another survivor, Chris Ryan places the blame for what went wrong squarely at McNab's feet. In Ryan's account, which naturally shows him in a favourable light, McNab is portrayed not a calm cool leader under fire, but more so as a bumbling idiot whose carelessness and failures caused both the missions failure, but the loss of three comrades lives.
A more recent book by Michal Asher also another former SAS member, has called into question many aspects of both McNab's and Ryans accounts, especially suggesting they exaggerate their own acts of heroism and the numbers of Iraqi soldiers they both fought and killed.
The movie Bravo Two Zero was produced well before the controversy of what may or may or not happened in Northern Iraq in January 1991, and is a faithful adaptation of the book. McNab collaborated on the screenplay and acted as an advisor to the filmmakers.
The story is fairly straightforward. Prior to the launching of the ground war to liberate Kuwait, the Coalition forces became worried about the Iraqi use of Scud missiles fired at Israel. Should these attacks continue it became evident that Israel would retaliate and enter the war against Iraq. Should that happen it was more than likely that the coalition of mainly Arab states would collapse, and with it the upcoming ground campaign, something that had probably occurred to Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi high command.
Dealing with the static Scud missile bases was fairly easy for the coalition air forces. Finding and stopping the highly mobile SCUD launchers was less so. The mission of locating and finding them went to the various Special Forces units in Saudi Arabia including the SAS.
McNab was tasked to lead an eight-man patrol into Iraq to locate and destroy a fibre optic cable that was being used to transmit firing data from Baghdad to the mobile Scud sites in western Iraq. Once the cables were destroyed the launchers could not be used and the threat to Israel and the coalition would cease. His was obviously not the only patrol sent out, and they had a secondary mission to locate and destroy any SCUD launchers they came across. The radio call sign for the patrol was Bravo Two Zero.
McNab decided to have his patrol inserted at night by helicopter close to the MSR (main supply route) west of Baghdad and Tab or march to a position where they could observe the route. Almost from the beginning things began to go wrong. They found a position to observe the MSR and the buried fibre optic cables, but at dawn discovered that their OP (observation post) was close to a large concentration of Iraqi soldiers that they'd not seen or heard during the night.
To make matters worse, their radio wasn't working. It was decided to leave the area at last light and as per a prearranged plan head to a helicopter pick up point, get a new radio and then carry on with the
mission. Then a young Shepard boy discovered the patrol hiding in a gully and immediately alerted the Iraqi soldiers to their presence.
What happened next was a two-hour running firefight between the eight SAS troopers and an estimated 200 heavily armed Iraqi soldiers. McNab estimates that 100 Iraqi soldiers were killed in this engagement. None of the patrol was wounded. (Ashers account suggest that McNab seriously exaggerates both the numbers of Iraqis engaged and killed). During this time the patrol was forced to abandon most of their equipment including their food, water, explosives, spare clothing, medical supplies and the malfunctioning radio.
Finally breaking contact with the Iraqis at nightfall, McNab decided that they would escape and evade north and west towards Syria a friendly power. The distance to travel on foot was almost 200 kilometres. Things continued to get worse. The temperature dropped and a severe storm developed. The patrol became separated during the storm, with three members were lost.
McNab and the four others eventually found the MSR again. Here they captured a taxi and drove it towards the Syrian border. They were within a few kilometers of the border when they were discovered at a roadblock and another running firefight occurred. Two of the patrol were killed and a third wounded. McNab and the fifth SAS trooper became separated in the fight and both were captured.
Of the three lost members of the patrol, one died of hypothermia and exposure. The second was eventually captured and imprisoned along with McNab and his comrade. The last member of the patrol, Chris Ryan actually managed to evade capture and walk to Syria and safety.
McNab covers Ryan's ordeal in great detail in his book. The movie, which was produced after Ryan wrote his own account (also turned into a movie) The One That Got Away, which as noted places the blame for the failures with McNab though barely mentions it.
McNab and his two comrades were tortured for several weeks while prisoners of the Iraqis. The wounded member of the patrol was kept separate from them but not spared mistreatment at the hands of his captors. Eventually all four were repatriated at the end of the ground war.
The movie Bravo Two Zero was produced by the BBC directed by Tom Clegg and stars Sean Bean ( LOTR, Shape, Ronin, Patriot Games, Golden Eye) as Sgt Andy McNab. The balance of the cast, SAS patrol members and various Iraqi characters are played by relative unknowns, although regular viewers of BBC programs may recognize a face or two.
Bean is well know to British Audiences, although he has yet to have more than a supporting role in North American productions. He turns in a fair and believable performance here. His reputation for portraying action heroes such as in the Sharpe series was probably a major factor in casting him as McNab. Bean also provides a voice over narrative that helps with moving the story along.
The movie was filmed in South Africa, and from most accounts I've heard on a very limited budget. Despite this its still worth watching. There is tradition "low budget made for TV movies" being as good as their major Hollywood counterparts, for example the efforts of Turner, and/or HBO.
The movie follows the book, that is to say McNab's version of what happened summarized above quite faithfully. South Africa was chosen as a suitable stand in for Iraq. Due to the various conflicts in the region, a large supply of Soviet military equipment, which is/was also in use by the Iraqi military was available to the producers and appears in the film.
In addition to this the other military aspects of the film are also realistic. The various firefights are well staged, with none of the standard Hollywood pyrotechnics and stunt men flying through the air. McNab acted as an advisor, and it's obvious he ensured realism, at least in regards to how the SAS are portrayed. Their uniforms, equipment, weapons handling, language, and tactics all appear to be correct. There is even a scene showing the difficulties of performing simple toilet activities in an OP.
The unique sense of humour shared by all military personal is also shown here. One scene shows members of the patrol hiding a heavy chuck of concrete in a colleagues rucksack as a practical joke. There is also a running joke regarding the quality, and colour, of the hard candies that the patrol has been issued.
The movie is fast paced especially the battle sequences and there is a sense of almost palpable tension throughout it. The score and cinematography serve to enhance this mood throughout.
The film is violent and graphic, especially in showing the after effects of combat and in the scenes showing the torture of the prisoners at the hands of the Iraqi military. Given the subject matter at hand though this is understandable and is in no way gratuitous. To gloss over these aspects would have in my opinion been a disservice.
The DVD is offered in wide screen version with Dolby digital surround sound and contains a few extras. There is the standard scene selection feature and the movie trailer is included. Naturally several other trailers are also included. A subtitle or hard of hearing feature is available and may be useful if one is not used to the thick British accents of some of the characters.
My only real beef with this movie to be honest is the ongoing controversy regarding how much if anything in McNab's version of events is true. I read the book when it first came out and like many accepted it as gospel. It took me a while to view the movie, and in the interim the whole controversy has grown up. Unfortunately this coloured somewhat my enjoyment of this movie. That said and done it is still a welcome addition to my collection of military movies. I'm just not sure if it should be filed under fiction or non-fiction anymore.