In 1991, during the Gulf War, a British SAS patrol — codenamed Bravo Two Zero — is dropped behind enemy lines in Iraq. Led by Andy McNabb (played by Sean Bean), their mission is to track down and destroy Iraqi scud missile launchers and also to disrupt communications between Baghdad and Northwestern Iraq. Almost from the minute that the 8 member teams is dropped behind enemy lines, things start to go wrong. The weather turns against them. They’re spotted by both Iraqi civilians and soldiers. While the team tries to make it back to safety, McNabb and three others are captured by the Iraqis and are forced to endure torture while looking for an opportunity to escape.
Bravo Two Zero, which originally aired in two parts on the BBC, is based on Andy McNabb’s memoir about what happened when Bravo Two Zero found themselves trapped behind enemy lines, their mission compromised. It’s a rousing story but it’s also a controversial one. Several other people who were involved with the operation claimed that McNabb (which was a pseudonym adopted to protect the identities of the other members of the unit) exaggerated certain details, particularly the extent that he was tortured and the number of Iraqi soldiers that the unit had to fight on their way to the Syrian border. What is known for sure is that the unit was trapped behind enemy lines and, of the 8 who set out, only five returned, having survived against almost impossible odds. It’s possible to debate the exact details but no one debates the bravery of the men involved.
As a film, Bravo Two Zero takes McNabb at his word. It’s a tough and gritty war film and Sean Bean gives an excellent performance in the role of McNabb. Real-life footage from the Gulf War is mixed in with the recreation of what happened to the unit and it gives the film both a semi-documentary feel and it also ratchets up the suspense. While the news broadcasts present what appears to be a very easy victory over Iraq, we’re reminded that it wasn’t as easy for the men who were actually getting shot at on a daily basis. Will the men be able to make it to Syria before the rest of the world moves on? Though the film is clearly on the side of the Coalition Forces, it’s hardly blindly jingoistic. While the Iraqis who torture McNabb are presented as being sadists, the majority of the Iraqi citizens come across as just people trying to survive day-by-day while bombs rain down upon them. For the most part, the Iraqi people are presented as being caught in the middle of a war that, regardless of who wins, will never benefit them, pawns in a battle between competing super powers. The film’s villain is Saddam Hussein and not the people living under his dictatorship.
Bravo Two Zero is an excellent war film, one that emphasizes the hard work and training that goes into serving with the SAS over the usual action film heroics. While never glamorizing combat or war, it pays tribute to those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice.