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Sundance Film Review: ‘Legion of Brothers’

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An intense depiction of the risks undertaken by two of the first U.S. Army Special Forces units deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11, and the long-term personal impact of such experiences on those who fought, “Legion of Brothers” has surviving soldiers relate their harrowing missions, 15 years later. Those memories are still fresh wounds to many, who believed, at least, that their sacrifices had a quick, decisive effect. Implicit in the documentary is the veterans’ dismay that a series of disastrous subsequent American tactical decisions would create ensuing “quagmires” in the region years after. The film would make a striking double bill with Charles Ferguson’s 2007 “No End in Sight,” which depicted the cumulative failures of judgment which undid the progress made by successful initial actions.

Greg Barker’s feature doc sidesteps any overt political agenda, making this the rare nonpartisan documentary that might tap some of the wide, largely conservative audience that embraced “American Sniper.” This is by far the more honest film, as well as a tougher watch, but its up-close portrait of heroic dedication in extreme situations has the dramatic immediacy and air of privileged access to impress both hawks and doves. Gravitas Ventures has picked up U.S. theatrical and other rights at Sundance from CNN, though the latter will remain its domestic broadcaster.

The protagonists are Green Berets dispatched to Afghanistan in top-secret assignments just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Among the 12-man “A-teams” which prepared for that purpose in Fort Marshall, Ky., two are spotlighted here: Capt. Mark Nutsch’s Team 595, and Capt. Jason Amerine’s Team 574. The former group was first to arrive, on Oct. 19, and tasked with joining forces with the anti-Taliban military front Northern Alliance to capture a series of cities in the north, with the objective being the regional capital Mazar-e-Sharif. They did this primarily on horseback — not exactly a familiar means of transport for most of the 595’ers.

On Nov. 3 Amerine’s team began infiltrating key points in the south, in tandem with future Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Moving toward Kandahar, they, like the other group of Green Berets, managed to wipe out enemy strongholds while capturing or killing a number of important Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders.

It would be a shame to spoil the details (whether forgotten by most viewers or mostly withheld from the public initially); as related by those who fought, they often pack a wallop, and none more so than the catastrophic incident in which a U.S. air strike (which the officers here thought ill-advised and unnecessary) was ordered for the wrong coordinates. The result was that one Special Forces team here was on the receiving end of 2,000 lbs. of explosive friendly fire. Despite

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