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Saturday Matinee 2015 036: I Am Soldier (British, 2014 …

Saturday Matinee 2015 036: I Am Soldier (British, 2014 ...Even if you haven t ever seen this B-movie before, you ve seen this one before: the man-against-training movie, in this case, SAS Selection in the modern day, starring Tom Hughes .

It starts off very slowly, with Our Hero in the British equivalent of something every US SOF guy knows and loves (well, maybe not loves), the Resistance Training Lab. About 15 minutes into the show, the show begins, with instructor Staff Sergeant Carter (Noel Clarke in the film s strongest performance) telling the men what to expect:

You will decide who passes not us. We will lay out each phase before you. And then, all you have to do is complete it. If you re attending for the first time, you have no idea what you are about to experience. You can ask your mates who are attending for their second and last time. You will meet the standards. Or you ll be binned. Follow me.

Saturday Matinee 2015 036: I Am Soldier (British, 2014 ...

Carter, Chris and Mickey the longer the run goes, the faster pace Carter sets. And as a platoon a subdivision of the 200-man selection class follows Carter up into the foothills, his voiceover continues: You will be smashed. Both physically and mentally. On the first run, the trailing Land Rover begins to collect dropouts, and a subtitle tells us that then there were 163 of the first 200. This countdown reappears at intervals, always significantly lower than last time, as the unready, unsteady, and unlucky are sorted out of the running to join the SAS Regiment.

In time we come to meet three of the candidates as individuals. Mickey Tomlinson (Tom Hughes), is coming from an unexpected prior service position: he was a chef with the Royal Logistics Corps, although he has a secret that keeps giving him nightmares. His mates are infantrymen: John JJ Johnson (George Russo) is a paratrooper whose father is retired SAS, and big, strong Chris (Joshua Myers) who will learn some lessons about the limits of big and strong is from the Rifle Regiment. All three are extremely skilled actors and give life to parts that are sometimes written in such a way that the actor has a salvage job on his hands.

Saturday Matinee 2015 036: I Am Soldier (British, 2014 ...

JJ and Mickey work out some personal problems in their billets. The scene that cements one s appreciation for the actors art is the moment when they re outside the CO s office, getting called in one at a time to get the word on whether they passed. (In SF, it s a board, and in our day it was all NCOs, even for officer candidates), but the emotions are exactly as depicted here. Seriously, it triggered flashbacks). At about the halfway point we learn about a terrorist plot, and that a character who has several intriguing sides also has a further secret. This sets us up for what is going to happen after graduation.

There is an unrealistic woman officer/enlisted soldier romance that feels less grafted on than the usual. Naturally the woman is depicted as an Amazon who can beat cage fighters several times her size on sheer you go, girl -osity, and that grates, because people watch these movies and go away believing that nonsense. Apart from the inter-rank romance, though, her duties as a member of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment are plausible, and she has counterparts in other free world SOF elements. We can t say whether she d be involved in SAS selection, although we know two ways women were always involved: as interrogators in the RTL phase, and as security evaluators (something that goes back at least as far as wartime SOE and SIS practice).

Acting and Production

The film does an excellent job of portraying the physical and performance strain and exhaustion, and the terror of failure, in elite Armyrats © military selection and qualification courses. It gets that down very well. The director, Ronnie Thompson, has a really, really annoying habit of using rapid cuts and jerky camera work when he s out of ideas, and he spends far too much of the movie out of ideas. Also, his cuts are irritating. They cut to black for a long count, as if he had too little faith the viewer s ability to process a change of scene. Make-up is something we haven t ever commented on before, as far as we can recall. But we ve seldom seen it this bad. (In the interminable Resistance Training Lab scene, particularly. We went back and checked the RTL scene and apart from its appearance in gratuitous flash-backs and flash-forwards, it s a full ten minutes for something most directors would have disposed of with a well-edited montage).

The austere, terrible scenery of the Brecon Beacons in Wales is, in the first half or so, an uncredited star of the film. Most Britons seem to pass through their lives completely unaware that this remarkable scenic wonder exists an easy drive (or as our SAS candidates arrive, a train ride) away. It is not the most forbidding terrain in the UK hard to beat the Orkneys for that but it s the sort of place an unprepared hiker, or even a prepared one who s a bit too cocky, can kill himself. That s what makes it ideal for SAS selection, of course.

Saturday Matinee 2015 036: I Am Soldier (British, 2014 ...

We watched this movie on Amazon Prime. The pros for watching it that way: it s free as in beer (considering we already pay for Prime for speedier book delivery. If they ever remove the free shipping benefit, we ll drop prime, because Prime video is sub-VHS quality).

Accuracy and Weapons

Most of the firearms seem to be replicas, with dubbed sounds. The price of filming in Britain, we suppose. For all that, they re not that bad, except in the last act where there s a weird set of mock M4s with a weird set of sights from carrying handles to Chinese knockoff optics.

Saturday Matinee 2015 036: I Am Soldier (British, 2014 ...

There is some use of CGI, for example to create Chinook helicopters, and it s low-budget and dreadful. One little detail that rang false with us: their survival snare catches a rabbit. Never heard of that actually happening on any course (selection or survival) in any army in the world. If survival/RTL completion is accurately depicted, it s a hell of a lot lower-key than its Yank counterpart. No flag raising, none of that stuff. Our pshrinks say the flag-raising ceremony is key to reintegrating the candidate, who otherwise would come out of SERE as a white-hot ball of hate.

We don t know how accurate it is compared to today s SAS selection and training. The last SAS guys who shared beers and stories with us went to selection long ago, but as they described it events that are shown as small-team (2-4 guys) events were individual events. The difficulty of the events is not, however, understated. SAS selection and training includes considerable amounts of both gut-check and must-pass knowledge and (mostly) skills gates. Weapons handling once the guys go operational turns into a soup sandwich. Doing CQB, nobody has or keeps a sector, and, when they need max precision because of a scriptwritten hazard, they drop their M4s and take up 9mm pistols instead. Obviously no one associated with the film knew what he was doing with firearms if weapons knowledge was Plutonium 239, the entire cast and crew wouldn t have enough to blow any one of their noses. The bad guys have a dirty bomb that appears to have been left over in a forgotten property shed from the 1960s spy comedy, Get Smart. Yes, it s that bad.

The bottom line

I Am Soldier is a B movie that makes a plunge to C or lower after completion of SAS selection. Of course, if they cut out the hokey and underbudgeted last act, trimmed the RTL to reasonable size, and eliminated the spastic flash-arounds and portentous minutes of black screen, it would be a 45 minute short. The easiest job in Hollywood would be cutting this to fit in an hour of TV with a million commercials.

For more information

Here s some British and SAS slang for those of youThese sites relate to this particular film.

Binned dropped from the course, i.e., in the dustbin (trash can).
Beat the clock if you don t know this one, we won t spoil it for you (the movie explains it).

Saturday Matinee 2015 036: I Am Soldier (British, 2014 ...
Tabbing formerly yomping, in US slang rucking, formerly humping walking with rucksack.
Gypsy s warning a head s up, an unofficial caution. Longstanding British slang (19th Century? Our grandmother knew it).

These are sites related to this movie[1]

Prime streaming video (free with prime):[2][3]

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  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (unreviewed):

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