Kandahar Break: Fortress of War, 2009.
Directed by David Whitney.
Starring Shaun Dooley, Dean Andrews, Rasheed Naz and Tatmain Ul Qulb.
A British mine clearance engineer is pursued across the desert after falling foul of a corrupt police chief in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The feature debut of British writer-director David Whitney, Kandahar Break: Fortress of War takes us back to a pre-9/11 Afghanistan during the height of Taliban control and stars Shaun Dooley (Eden Lake) as Richard Lee, an ex-British army bomb disposal expert now earning his living as a privately-contracted British engineer. After spending time working in Africa, Lee returns to Afghanistan in 1999 to fulfil a mine clearance contract on behalf of the Taliban government, who have since came to power and exerted their will upon the country.
Reuniting with co-workers Steve Delamore (Life on Mars’ Dean Andrews) and translator Jamilah (newcomer Tatmain Ul Qulb, who impresses in her first role), a young Afghan woman with whom he has a romantic past, Lee is warned of the strict enforcement of Sharia law and the Taliban’s thirst for conflict. Despite this, his naïve ignorance quickly brings him into confrontation with his employers when on first day at work he finds himself staring down the barrel of an AK-47 after urinating within the vicinity of a Muslim woman.
Having witnessed first-hand the brutality of the regime, Lee announces his intention to take Jamilah to London to escape the oppression but his troubles are further compounded when the local Taliban governor Ashiq Khan (Rasheed Naz) replaces her as his translator. After the two are seen sharing a kiss Jamilah is kidnapped by an enraged mob and taken to be stoned as punishment. Although he manages to disrupt the proceedings Lee is unsuccessful in his efforts to save Jamilah’s life and – condemned to death himself – his only option is to flee Kandahar and embark on a perilous journey across the Afghan desert towards the sanctuary of the Pakistan border.
Kandahar Break’s pre-war setting presents a refreshing and somewhat insightful change to current trends and the film is entirely convincing in its representation of a corrupt regime exerting their control over the weary Afghan people. With the production hazarding the dangerous tribal regions of Pakistan in its quest for authenticity – a decision which almost turned to tragedy when four Pakistani crew members were injured when rebels opened fire on their mini-bus – questions are also raised about the effectiveness of the ongoing Afghan conflict.
However, while a title like Kandahar Break: Fortress of War may conjure the impression of yet another artistic take on the War on Terror, it is difficult really to describe the film as such. Whitney actually delivers a film of two halves, starting out with a simple ‘forbidden love’ story against the backdrop of the Taliban’s extremist ideology, which quickly segues into a chase-thriller as Lee is pursued by both the government and his co-workers in his desperate trek to safety. Throw in a little socio-political commentary, convincing performances from its cast and accomplished cinematography and what you have is a rather decent drama that manages to deliver for the majority of its duration. Whitney has certainly shown his potential as a filmmaker and with a handful of festival awards under his belt for Kandahar Break, he could be one to watch out for as his career progresses.
Kandahar Break receives a limited theatrical release in select UK cinemas from September 10th and is released on DVD and Blu-ray September 13th. View the trailer here.