Review by Sean Boelman
Set to debut after the penultimate episode of Homeland, Greg Barker’s new documentary The Longest War hopes to serve as a companion piece to the beloved show. However, the film doesn’t offer much in the way of substantial discussion of the international conflict at its core, instead feeling like a drab recollection of already well-known events.
The movie takes a look at the War on Terror, with a specific focus on the human impact that the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan has on people on both sides of the war. Thankfully, unlike most American films dealing with this war, the movie isn’t excessively jingoistic or Islamophobic, but it still doesn’t explore the other side with a whole lot of substance.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that it tries to cover more ground than it has the time to do so. As the title suggests, this conflict spans a stretch of many years. Because of this, the movie doesn’t go into the specific detail which it promises, instead only offering brief glimpses into the very real stories that are involved in the war.
The film almost certainly would’ve been better off had it stuck with telling fewer stories. Although it is understandable why Barker wanted to give these people a greater voice, the interviews aren’t substantial enough for the viewer to form any real connection with them beyond the basic sympathy one feels for their situation.
That isn’t to say that there is no emotion in the documentary — some of the interviews are certainly very hard-hitting. But when there are already so many movies dealing with the conflict in the Middle East, and they ultimately do a better job of communicating the emotional turmoil that the unintended victims of the war face, this film ends up feeling disappointingly shallow.
Barker’s main point with the movie seems to be to say that there are two sides to every story, and the film is mostly successful at conveying this. There’s definitely a lot that audiences can learn about humanity and empathy from these stories, but after a certain point, the movie starts to feel like it is trying too hard to pull at the heartstrings.
On a technical level, the film is certainly very accomplished. Barker is a great filmmaker, and he knows how to tell a story in a compelling way. The issue boils down to the fact that he has enough material to make an entire mini-series out of it, and yet he condenses it down to a movie less than an hour and a half in length, leading it to feel undercooked.
The Longest War was clearly made with the best of intentions, but unfortunately, it only scratches the surface of the greater story being told. There are much better explorations of the consequences of war than this that were more worthy of this coveted airtime.
The Longest War debuts on Showtime on April 19 at 10pm ET/PT.