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Hal MacDermot [Celluloid 04.13.11] United Kingdom movie review action thriller

Year: 2011
Directors: Mathew Hope
Writers: Mathew Hope/Adam Tysoe
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Hal MacDermot
Rating: 7.7 out of 10

Who is the real enemy? Is it the Taliban in Afghanistan? Al Qaeda who knows where? Our own secret services, the mercenaries (sorry “private contractors”) all over the world, or perhaps even the hoards of psychopathic youth gangs that roam too many of the housing estates of the United Kingdom. Returning Afghanistan veteran Miller (Toby Kebbell) tries to unravel the barbed wire ball.

Matthew Hope’s dark, action thriller is a powerful, ambitious exploration of the shadowy bleeding overlap between the wars on terror and drugs. Like in his first movie, a zombie flick titled The Vanguard, the (anti) hero explores a world where unseen political forces shape events and morality blurs. In the Veteran, the occasionally awkward political speechifying is given to supporting characters, luckily, because that kept me on loving Miller, who gives a great performance. If you enjoy action and bullets, and also original ideas, this is a movie for you.

Many Iraq/Afghan war movies, for example Brothers and The Messenger, focus on home front troubles and personal emotions, but stay shy of the wider political realities. In those movies, the blood and guns war exists only in some far away dusty third world land. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino bought the war home to the doorstep, when the Vietnam Vet ends up neighbours with Vietnamese Americans, in a neighbourhood plagued by gangs. Gran Torino dealt with racial prejudice and pride, but the story themes again remain on a very personal level. The impact of the Vietnam’s battlefields is found in racial politics, immigration and the evolving American Dream. The Veteran world is not so comfortable.

Miller’s immigrant mate Farhad comes to Britain for a better life but his family is destroyed by the gangs, and Miller can’t prevent it. The war on terror and drugs are ongoing and domestic. The Veteran does not get to form feel good friendships. I can see why the director of this movie loves Paul Schrader’s Taxi Driver so much, but then so do I.

Miller returns from the war in Afghanistan to find a war on his own doorstep. The decaying South London housing estate he calls home is overrun by gun-toting youth gangs. Their drug dealing leader (Ashley Thomas) says to him, “you are either with us or you are against us,” which is of course how many politicians used to portray the war in Iraq, before it all became too confusing for their poor little brains. Welcome to the Middle East. Or is that London? It’s hard for a man with post traumatic stress, and for the audience, to tell. Miller stands on the roof of a London high rise building at night, the red glowing nightscape looks like a burning battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact on a visual level, some of the best scenes take place in this desolate apocalyptic wasteland of a Southwark estate.

Through an ex-army mate, Miller is soon recruited for an undercover operation to keep tabs on a network of suspected terrorist cells. Embedded in the terrorist group is fellow operative Alanya (Adi Bielski), a women with whom he falls in love. Miller uncovers suburban bombs factories, Chechens and lies, and the menacing soundtrack does a great job in helping build the tension and dark mood. Miller soon discovers that our security forces are not quite what they seem, and neither are his friends.

Miller’s world doesn’t have much room for the noble quest for the Great Truth that we see in many Iraq/Afghanistan war movies like Fair Game, Green Zone or the Valley of Elah (thank God). This is a world of the confused British anti-hero caught up in Ridley’s Body of Lies, but with no James Bonds and Hollywood to save everyone. Miller’s mates hang out in seedy strip bars or watch helplessly as family members get corrupted by drug gangs. The good guys do not always win, and the hero doesn’t always get the girl, and there is no Matt Damon to kill the bad guys. Miller drives a rubbish car and lives on a rubbish estate. He’s my kind of anti-hero.

I did have a couple of minor problems with the movies. Bringing together the stories of international terrorism and drug gangs on a local estate was never going to be easy, and sometimes I felt the story was somewhat disjointed. As the story develops, there’s also too much bundling people into vans and generally, too many car/stake out scenes. The ending really took me by surprise, and was pretty leftfield, but on reflection, I’m a fan. Goddamn kids.

Generally, Hope uses the back drop of the derelict housing estate to great effect. The fight scenes are strong and technically realistic, and part of this must be due to the fact that Hope’s co-writer Bob­ Craft is a former member of the Parachute Regiment and 24 years in the service. In summary, The Veteran is a fine movie and well worth seeing.

The UK theatrical release date is 29 April 2011, no word yet on U.S. release date.

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Mr A (11 years ago) Reply

Not to nitpick, but I believe Eastwood was a Korean War vet in Gran Torino and his neighbors Hmong Americans. The latter with 100% certainty.


Dylan (10 years ago) Reply

Watched it, lacking in the action department greatly, the accents were very deep and made it hard to understand everything being said, acting was horendous.


Hal (11 years ago) Reply

My bad on the Eastwood, yes Korean War. His neighbours, Hmong yes, most Hmong in the US fled there after the Vietnam war, and fall of Laos, to escape retribution etc.


kevin (11 years ago) Reply

Is Bashy in every British film set on a council estate from now on?


klaus (11 years ago) Reply

what is the name of the song in trailer ?


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

this is a crap movie..stupid directors and writers


(11 years ago) Reply

you are so stupid! you dont know what is great from good! you stupid anonymous!! the film was so great! i love it, very realistic in a sense.


Holden (11 years ago) Reply

The Movie leaves me with a BIG Question Mark over me forehead. I only got one Question, Why on earth did the secret service or whatever they were, recruited Miller? So that he can discover that they hang together with the al qaida, that doesn't really make sense, does it. Can someone slove this big script gap to me ? on the other hand, an idea occurred to me that this conspiracy takes only place in Millers head, there is no such a thing, the drug dealers are just drug dealers and not members of an world wide CIA-conspiracy. There are some hints to one of me favourite movies, Taxi Driver, as you already noticed. Especially in the end. In this Movie a lot of the things Travis Brinkle(De Niro) notice are disturbed due his post traumatic stress syndrome,for example he wants to shoot a politician etc. So maybe this is could be an explanation. otherwise a good movie, I liked it.


Holden (11 years ago) Reply

Sorry, it is Travis Bickle of course


Chris (10 years ago) Reply

This movie was, in my own opinion, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The entire plot was contradicting itself from the start, and the ending, albeit surprising, was no way to end a movie of this nature.

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