Scottsdale Film Festival: Do Not Hesitate only scratches the surface of wartime psychology

The psychology of war is a tricky thing. War takes good natured men and turns them into machines, scaring the life out of them and making distrust a necessity for survival. It programs the youngest of adults, the most impressionable among us, with no capacity for dealing with life-or-death situations and brings out their worst instincts. Emotion needs to be stripped to make a good soldier, but what about the fallout of this stripped humanity?

This question lies at the center of Shariff Korver’s Do Not Hesitate. A convoy is transporting Dutch soldiers across an undetermined Middle Eastern desert and the humvee hits a ditch, rendering the vehicle out of commission and stranding a small unit of soldiers in a hostile area. The situation puts this unit on edge and starts to push the tensile limits of their compassion and gets even worse when a young, local boy (Omar Alwan) is introduced, adding a danger and unknown element to the story.

The script takes three broad character archetypes: the idealist Erik (Joe Brauers), the apathetic one Roy (Spencer Bogaert), and the realist Thomas (Tobias Kersloot) – pointing to their similarities in a moment of crisis rather than their differences, but Korver slowly digs away at their values. The change in their character coincides with the seemingly escalating danger and Korver shows a distrust that builds and builds. Unfortunately, the characters are hollow and the script spends no time developing them outside of establishing their archetypes. The only development afforded is showing Erik as a drummer, displaying him as simply more than a soldier but that’s it. We don’t feel the effects of the consequences outside the psychology of the situation, but it lacks a gravitas. The character study is singular in the approach and doesn’t look at the broad implications.

As for the craft, certain lighting decisions worked better than others. The low-light night time look was a choice and the insistence on establishing shots made the visual look of the film feel repetitive. There’s low-angle shot compositions that build the drama, but there’s so little here visually that brings out the tension in the story. It’s mainly on the script to build anxiety, as the visual language of the film is lacking. 

In closing, Shariff Korver’s vision does put the message front and center and it’s conveyed in a way that makes the audience think. However, the simplistic characterizations don’t bring out the best in the heavy themes of the film and leave the morality of the story in question. It’s basic in the approach, but does have a pondering style to the narrative that brings out the best in the film.


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