Bravo Two Zero (1999) Movie Review

There have been surprisingly few movies made about the 1991 Gulf War. My guess is because there’s not an engaging villain, largely due to Saddam Hussein’s mythical “5th Largest Army in the World” crumbling like Madonna’s acting career — that is, arriving with much bloated hype, but proven to be an empty shell. After all, they don’t call the Gulf War the “100 Hour War” for no reason. It only 100 hours to turn Hussein’s fabled army into a mass of white flags only rivaled in size and quick appearance by the ones held by the French in World War II.

“Bravo Two Zero” is a British war movie that follows a SAS (the British Special Forces) platoon on a mission in Northern Iraq during the early days of the war. Led by Andy McNab (Sean Bean), whose true-account book of the same name the movie is based on, the 8-men platoon ends up lost, with malfunctioning radio gear, and surrounded by a huge contingency of Iraqis. The platoon flees toward the Syrian border, but never makes it. Some are killed; others captured and tortured, and only one manages to make it to Syria on foot.

Besides McNab, the platoon’s team leader, another member of the platoon also wrote about the events and tragedies of this particular mission. Their books have caused quite a stir in the UK, and a third party actually took the time to fly to Iraq in order to discredit them. Being that I am a movie reviewer and not the checker of historical facts (and since the whole topic is still unresolved over there), all I can do is take the movie as a standalone work.

“Bravo Two Zero” doesn’t quite have the budget of “Blackhawk Down” (another war movie about a mission gone terribly bad), and it shows. The film takes advantage of all the news footages shot of the war, from planes dropping bombs to the massing of troops. While this gives the film a sort of documentary feel, it also provides a jarring contrast with scenes filmed for the movie. When you see a stock footage one second and cut to a filmed segment the next, it’s very obvious. I would have preferred if the filmmakers had stuck to their own footages, because the presence of stock just makes “Bravo” look cheaper than it is.

Most war movies are judged by its battle scenes, and “Bravo Two Zero” does have a couple of good ones to offer. Early in the film, the platoon performs what amounts to a last-stand in a flat desert as they’re descended upon by dozens of Iraqi regulars. Instead of retreating, the Brits begin racing toward the enemy. This is an interesting battle tactic, and apparently a successful one because they rout the same soldiers that were charging them a minute ago. This sequence is followed by a running gunfight with what looks like a whole Iraqi company pursuing McNab and his men through the flat desert landscape.

Sometimes the budget of “Bravo Two Zero” also makes itself know in other small ways. The pyrotechnics are not up to par, especially considering realistic war effects achieved by a film like “Saving Private Ryan” only a year earlier. While “Bravo Two Zero” doesn’t use the Shaky War POV that’s become seemingly required by every war movie post-“Ryan”, I now realize just why those movies looked so much better. Say whatever you will about the whole Shaky War POV fad, but it looks good.

As the lead, Sean Bean (“Ronin”) gives a stoic and subdued performance, and as a result his Andy McNab just isn’t very personable. Aside from a few insights McNab gives us into the state of a soldier during battle and torture via voiceover narration, I really didn’t find McNab to be a good lead. Steve Nicolson, as Dinger, would have made a much better leading man; Nicolson has elected to play Dinger as a colorful personality, and it works. It may be the case that the real McNab is as personally unimpressive as Sean Bean has elected to play him, but it just doesn’t translate well to cinema.

The film takes a dark turn when McNab and his crew are captured and subjected to an endless round of torture. The Iraqis, as shown here, are not the smartest people in the world. For one, they keep insisting that every Westerner (i.e. non-Arabs) is either an Israeli soldier or an Israeli spy. It would seem like a rather easy thing to do to confirm a person as being Israeli or Jewish, which McNab actually does at one point by showing that his penis has a foreskin.

If the Iraqi military are truly as stupid as shown here, it’s no wonder their “Mother of all battles” only lasted 100 days. Then again, the more I see of Hussein and his minions on TV talking about “the evil Zionists” and “the Great Satan”, I’m not sure if “Bravo Two Zero’s” interpretation of the Iraqi military is all that off the mark. I’m also entirely certain that for comparison’s sake, every Iraqi war movie shows all anti-Iraqis to be just as absurdly stupid. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

“Bravo Two Zero” is far from being the ultimate Gulf War movie. It’s not even close. The story of McNab’s lost patrol is fascinating, and rather it’s all true or has some fictionalized parts as some have claimed, the film does seemed too rushed.

Tom Clegg (director) / Troy Kennedy-Martin (screenplay), Andy McNab (book)
CAST: Sean Bean …. Andy McNab
Steve Nicolson …. Dinger
Rick Warden …. Tony
Richard Graham …. Mark

Buy Bravo Two Zero on DVD