Toronto Review: Janus Metz's Incredible War Doc 'Armadillo'
by Alex Billington
September 18, 2010
I'm not normally a big documentary guy, so I don't see many of them over the course of a year, but I'd heard some great things about a Danish doc called Armadillo that won the top prize in the Semaine de la Critique (Critics' Week) sidebar in Cannes earlier this year. I finally saw this documentary in Toronto and damn is it good, it's pretty much as incredible as you've likely heard, but not perfect. Armadillo is a documentary that follows a platoon of Danish soldiers on a six month tour to a front line army base in Afghanistan in the war against the Taliban in early 2009. It's intense and emotional and, yes I'll say it, better than The Hurt Locker.
What I mean to say is that I'm not the biggest fan of The Hurt Locker. Although I think it's a great film, I've got a few minor issues with it, whereas Armadillo is absolutely engrossing, extremely intense, and entirely real. We're introduced to a few soldiers as they leave their families in Denmark and land in Afghanistan at the base known as Armadillo. They get to see some action over their six month tour and this includes some very intense battles where even the cameraman is caught off guard. There are no talking head interviews, it's an embedded crew that is documenting this and with Uno Helmersson's beautiful score, we don't need any explanation, as the narrative unveils itself and it's riveting to watch - your eyes will never leave the screen.
Although I loved Armadillo and was blown away by it (pun not intended), my only complaints are nitpicky things that come from a lack of explanation and confusion in some of the action "scenes" when the soldiers are in combat. We hear them calling out commands and shouting things, yet we don't learn how/why they know any of that info or how the operation is playing out. I realize that might come from their military not allowing those details to be disclosed, but there were a few times where I was confused, even though I was still captivated by everything we were seeing. It's a very tough war documentary to watch, because you never know if a bullet is going to come out of nowhere and hit one of these soldiers, but one of the best I've seen.
I know there are a lot of war docs out there, like Sebastian Junger's Restrepo which is quite similar to this, but there is something about Armadillo that I think stands out above the rest. If you love documentaries at all there is no question that you must add Metz's Armadillo to your list of docs to see as soon as possible.
Alex's Toronto Rating: 9 out of 10