From 1979 to 1989, the Soviet Union fought a bloody war to control Afghanistan. Though generally dominate on the battlefield, the Soviets were thwarted in their efforts to establish a functional secular regime by a violent Islamic insurgency willing to wage a guerrilla war of attrition. After suffering more than 14,000 combat fatalities and 53,000 injuries, the Soviet Union ignobly withdrew. One of the final notable engagements during the nine-year occupation occurred in January of 1988 between a 39-man company of Soviet paratroopers tasked with defending Hill 3234, a rugged outpost overlooking a critical highway linking Gardez to Khost in southeastern Afghanistan, and a much larger force of irregular insurgents. 9th Company, a 2005 Russian war film, takes the Battle for Hill 3234 as loose inspiration for a fanciful adaption of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1989).
Following the Full Metal Jacket formula, 9th Company is divided into two acts: in the first, the Soviet protagonists are transformed from civilian boys to military men by basic training; in the second act, the protagonists are physically and psychologically tested on the battlefield. Following Kubrick's formula, the protagonists are forged by their experiences in basic training, and then blunted or broken by the horrors of war. However, where actor/director Fyodor Bondarchuk departs from Full Metal Jacket is in the body count among the protagonists -- favoring the more is better school of thought.
Though obviously cribbed from Full Metal Jacket, 9th Company lacks the realism of the original. Rather than attempting to convey a sense of reality, Bondarchuk favors grand gestures, obvious symbolism, and pronounced archetypal characters, creating a film that mimics Paul Vanhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997) but without the ironic self-awareness that makes Starship Troopers watchable.
Apart from certain teenage boys who may, at face value, enjoy the film's characterizations of the fraternity of arms and the horrors of war, most viewers will have to squeeze what pleasure they can from the unintentional comedy of the clichéd characters and situtations, as 9th Company clumsily plods through its 140-minute runtime. For fans of bad cinema there's much to like about 9th Company including overly sentimental music, inane dialogue, overly-lit sets, unnecessary slow motion, and combat sequences not rivaled in their absurdity since Rambo III (1988).
While every viewer is likely to find a favorite over-the-top character and absurd situation, my favorite character is the physically and psychologically damaged drill sergeant who beats his boys mercilessly to make them good soldiers then plops down in a field of flowers for a good cry. While my favorite scene is the culminating battle in which all the bad guys clump together in front of the camera as they stroll up to the outpost all guns blasting like something out of a 1930s western serial.
9th Company is presented on a single-layered Blu-ray disc without regional restriction from Well Go USA.
Video & Audio:
9th Company is rendered in 1080p, in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Video appears to be hyper-stylized with exaggerated colors and detail tending toward the faux video game look of Zack Snyder's 300 (2006). Excessive edge enhancement and pixelation are occasionally apparent, but overall image quality is good, presuming the hyper-stylized visual style was intentional.
Aurally this release is a disappointment. The only audio options are a 5.1 English dub or a 2.0 original Russian audio. Neither are lossless. The English dub features atrocious voice acting and is suitable only for viewers unable or unwilling to read subtitles. The Russian audio while neither lossless nor 5.1 is of better-than-average DVD quality with deep base rumble, but lacks the dynamism expected on Blu-ray releases of this kind.
Optional English subtitles are provided.
The standard Blu-ray release provided for this review did not include any extras, through viewers inclined to do so may purchase the collector's edition which includes a second disc of extras.
The apparent idiocy of 9th Company can't be entirely attributed to cultural differences between Russian and American audiences since Soviet filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Larisa Shepitko, and Elem Klimov have made some of the finest, most universal, war films ever. Yet, perhaps the physically-gruff, psychologically-fragile characters, the hyper-sentimental music, and the simplistic combat representations of 9th Company appeals to something particular in Russian boys and young men of today, but I think not. The more likely answer is that 9th Company is just a bad film from an actor turned first-time director who should stick with what he knows.
9th Company may be worth a rental by war-genre enthusiasts of an uncritical disposition and by fans of unintentionally bad cinema, but most can safely skip it.