Friday, May 9, 2014

Movie Review - The 9th Company

I have just started experiencing the wonders of Netflix. I now have a whole host of options available that I did not have before. One of them is some rather interesting foreign films that I really had no access to. I just finished watching the 9th Company. It is a Russian movie from 2005 or so about the Soviet war in Afghanistan and a battle for Hill 3234 in January of 1988.

I remember reading about the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. As a cold war kid, I remember reading articles in Soldier of Fortune magazine and the like extolling the virtues of the Muj and demonizing the Soviets as invaders. I remember sporadic news coverage of the war but that is about it. Now as an older and wiser (OK, we will just go with older) individual, this movie was interesting to see the other guy's perspective.

In looking through some articles on line, about the movie. The reviews were that it is credible but the big fight at the end, historically did not end as the movie portrays it. Historically, the Soviet VDV (Airborne troops) held the hill top and only lost 8 men killed. The movie less optimistic. So much so, that a Russian game developer decided to make a game about it featuring elements of the fight to provide a better representation of what happened.

The first almost half of the movie covers the troops enlistment to an airborne unit that is destined for Afghanistan. It is interesting to me that they go straight from civilians to an airborne unit to get basic training. The training, while not showing everything, struck me as odd as you never see the airborne troops jump from an airplane. It was either not that important to the script or possibly not all airborne troops are parachute qualified? The drill instructor to American eyes would seem brutal, but he seems honestly interested in preparing the young men for service in Afghanistan. There is one odd scene where one of the enlistees has a touching moment with the drill instructor that seems a bit out of the blue. I am guessing that there was more background to this scene that ended up on the cutting room floor at some point. Predictably the men form a tight bond and end up in the back end of nowhere. My question is, did the Soviets of the 1980s take raw recruits and put them directly to airborne units or was it closer to the American model where the soldier goes through basic then volunteers for airborne school?

Since I know no Russian (except for yes and no), I had to read the subtitles. This only drew me out of the movie on occasion. For the most part, it was easy to follow and has proven to be a good movie. Here is where my lack of knowledge of the Soviet army of the 1980s comes out. The soldiers seem almost universally sloppy in appearance and care for their equipment. Their gear seems slapped on and in disarray when they are moving about. That just seemed odd to me. Was this artistic license or did the Soviet soldier from an elite unit (were airborne troops actually elite in the Soviet system?) actually just carry their gear higgldy pigldy like that?

All in all, it was a good movie. I am not sure that it accurately depicts the tactics used by the Soviets to hold off an attack. Also it claimed that the army basically forgot about the men on the hill due to the pull out. Historically, the defenders were in constant contact with headquarters and received artillery support. Seems that Hollywood is not the only place to play fast and loose with facts as much as they can.

So, here is the important question, any other recommendations or suggestions that I should look for? This one almost made me want to paint Soviets to do Afghanistan.

11 comments:

  1. You should look for Prisoner of the mountains by Bordov.

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    1. Thanks. I will try to track it down.

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  2. It's a pretty good movie, even if it has taken a few liberties in changing details about the real fight.

    Most of the VDV guys aren't parachute trained. They aren't parachute infantry, but rather air transported infantry. Most of the time they are ferried to battle with helicopters like the Mi-24. And as they are conscripts they are already preassigned to units to complete their service.

    Not really a movie, but the mini tv-series "Shtrafbat" is pretty good. It's about Russian penal battalions in WW2. Only in Russian also so subtitles are a must.

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    1. I was not able to find Shtrafbat on Netflix (at least streaming version) yet. But I will keep looking. Thanks for the tip.

      Also, thanks for the info on VDV training. That is interesting.

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  3. Thanks Chris. I've long looked at this movie, wondering if it's worth watching, but you've more than persuaded me! Thanks!

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    1. Great. Let me know what you think when you have had a chance to watch it.

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  4. The movie is very good, not too real, but very interesting.

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    1. Agreed. I did learn a bit reading up about what was wrong with the movie though. :)

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  5. Having majored in "Russian Studies" in the Cold War period, I recall a little of Soviet military training. Unlike the US system, they muster directly into their battalions in training companies. Recruits were treated like pledges in a fraternity or first years in British boarding schools: they were hazed and made to "serve" (take that any way you will and you'd be right) senior enlisted and non-coms. It was a much more brutal system (Surprise! It's Russian after all.) in which the non-Russian ethnic groups would get particularly hard treatment and it was a open secret that many recruits died in this process. Families from the non-Russian Republics would go to great lengths to help their sons avoid getting called up. And when they couldn't, they mourned it like a prison sentence. One other tidbit I recall was that by the late '70's mid 80's, the Soviet Army was a paper tiger. Gas for vehicles (mech inf/armor) bullets, rockets were in short supply. So, in the fine Russian tradition of Potemkin villages, when a unit would have to "qualify" for marksmanship, or driving, or whatever their specialty was, they would have a handful of their best trotted out for the inspectors and this counted for the entire unit.

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    1. Thanks. Very interesting. I think I remember reading something similar about qualifications before but I was not sure if it was truth or propaganda. Thanks for posting. That was enlightening.

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  6. Very interesting read and I might look the film up

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