(2009, GB, 101 min) Dir Michael Winterbottom. Cast Steve Coogan, Jason Issacs, Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed.
“So, tell me, in your own words,” asks Mike, a Nick Broomfield-alike documentary filmmaker played by Steve Coogan, of young soldier Newell (Hardy), “What do you think that the British army is still doing here, in Afghanistan?” Newell opens his mouth, closes it, and then looks to the left of the screen where Jason Issacs’ Oliver Messing stands. Messing is the Media Relations Officer for this division, sent by the MOD to ‘liase’ between the troops and the filmmakers. He shakes his head and Newell turns back to Mike and the camera. “I’m afraid I can’t be answering that question sir,” he says. Half mock-doc and half feature, The Helmland Hustle slots quite comfortably alongside 24 Hour Party People and A Cock and Bull Story in the Winterbottom/Coogan collaborations though it’s not quite as pointedly self-referential as either. The only issue with the film is that while it lays out it’s satirical stall early on it fails to cash in on this, focussing more on personality clashes than the absurdity of the situation they are all in. Besides that it’s still very funny with a great turn from Issacs, here quite ably keeping pace with improv veteran Coogan, and from Riz Ahmed playing an interpreter who despite blagging the job doesn’t actually speak the local language.