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By Phil Hall | September 22, 2011

Heather Courtney’s documentary follows the odyssey of three young slackers from a small town in Michigan who join their state’s National Guard right after graduating from high school. They wind up in Afghanistan, where they are assigned to locate and disable IEDs. During their tour of duty, all three become disillusioned with their mission. But when they return home, a combination of physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder disrupts their attempts to pick up their lives.

As the U.S. approaches the tenth anniversary of its military occupation of Afghanistan, this film provides a timely reminder of that endeavor’s conspicuous lack of successful results. The young soldiers are openly contemptuous of the Afghan people, and the villages they visit display no evidence of prosperity during the American period of control. And it doesn’t say very much when the officer in charge of a briefing cannot recall whether President “Kar-zee-ah” is still the Afghan head of state.

As for the film’s human story: the young men at the center of the film have obnoxious personalities and it takes a great deal of patience to follow their journeys. The film barely blunts their abrasive presence by offering large amounts of attention to their extremely patient and loving parents and friends. Indeed, the film’s most telling moment comes when the mother of one of the soldiers remarks that their lives bears an eerie resemblance to the classic Vietnam-inspired film “The Deer Hunter” – clearly, the U.S. never really learned its lesson about getting into Asian wars.

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