Losing one’s humanity is a common theme in war films.
When you’re a soldier, you are expected to follow orders. You follow the chain of command and dedicate yourself to the mission at hand. That could involve making sacrifices, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. It’s a difficult balancing act, as soldiers have to weigh the moral implications of what they’re doing with the necessity of completing the mission. These issues are all explored in Do Not Hesitate.
Directed by Shariff Korver, this Dutch thriller follows three soldiers, Erik (Joes Brauers), Roy (Spencer Bogaert), and Thomas (Tobias Kersloot), stuck on a broken down convoy in a Middle Eastern desert. After one of them accidentally shoots a goat, the goat’s owner stalks the soldiers, a small boy demanding compensation. Tensions rise as neither the soldiers nor the boy understands each other’s language, and the stress fuels their already aggravated minds.
Korver decided to shoot the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio, a creative decision utilized in recent films like First Reformed or The Lighthouse to enhance feeling trapped or isolated. This film is no exception but adds an interesting twist with cinematography that enhances the vast grandeur of the desert, contrasted with the tight aspect ratio. As such, the film reflects the soldiers feeling both trapped and small, stuck in a world where they don’t belong, and they know it, or at least Erik knows it. The film is primarily from Erik’s perspective, and Joes Brauers delivers real humanity from his performance, even though all the tension. You see him try as hard as he can not to escalate the situation and keeps the peace. However, you also see him struggle as the situation gets out of control, and it’s heartbreaking but almost destined. I do felt the third act went longer than it should’ve. While most of the film is well-paced, the latter half felt like it went on longer than it needed to, especially given the point it was trying to make.
The film has a lot to say regarding xenophobia, imperialism, militarism, but all in the style of a solid and intense thriller. There’s not much exposition or political context, but you don’t need it. You don’t need to know why these soldiers are in a Middle Eastern desert because there’s enough shorthand so you can put the pieces together in your head. The clear direction gives the characters time to breathe, allowing you to focus explicitly on the characters and their tension. The filmmakers trust their audience, and that trust is well earned. I wouldn’t say the themes are particularly new, but they’re well explored and executed nonetheless. Just in case the themes in the film are too subtle, there’s a scene with a Eurodance remix of “Ride of the Valkyries.” That should make the film’s politics explicitly clear.