Escape from Afghanistan (2002)

 

 

 

Director:     Timur Bekmambetov.

Starring:     Michael Karpinski (Alexi Utenbaev),  Oleg Chernishov (David Tairov),  Andrew Pan (Narin Teleutev),  Gennady Kayumov (Anders Kurischev),  Alex Shemes (Victor Kozub), Yuri Korolev (Alex Maslov),  Konstantin Lashenko (Oren Pastuchov),  Andrew Melnik (Timour Nurakhunov),  Alexander Lein (Peter D. Manzur),  Oleg Shulepov (Serge Plotnikov),  Andrei Ushanov (Ruben McCaffery),  David Kheird (Robert Fordham),  Victor Verzhbitski (Barry Kushner).

uprising of Soviet soldier captives in Badaber, Pakistan

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Charlie Palmer is a television journalist and war correspondent who has observed battles first hand. And he is never short of work. Currently he is covering Afghanistanís battle with Russia. In war what never changes is the blood, the death and the fire. He says he already knows that war will come again to Afghanistan after this war.

Afghan-Pakistan border. The Mujahedeen camp is located on the border in Pakistan, 30 km from Pechawar. Charlie has a medical doctor with him named Victor. In exchange for a sizable bribe, the journalist gets twenty minutes with the Russian prisoners. The prisoners are kept in a network of caves. Charlie sets up his equipment. He is going to interview fifteen Soviet troops recently captured in Afghanistan.

One of the prisoners will not cooperate. Another says he was mostly in Kandahar. And another says he was involved in punitive operations. He talks about how he gets a kick out of cutting the throats of the Afghans. One of the prisoners served in Baglan. He tells Charlie if he gets him out of the prison, he will tell him some very interesting things. He pleads with Charlie to get him out.

A Pakistani says his times is up, but Charlie insists that he still has five minutes left and three more men to interview. He offers more bribes, but the man is not listening to him. All of a sudden the Russians take advantage of the opportunity and take out the Pakistani guards. Then they use both Charlie and Victor as hostages and shields.

They reach a bunk room where the rest of the guards are sleeping. They use the AK-47s they captured to blast the sleeping men. But there are other guards around and soon itís a big fire fight. The biggest problem for the Russians is that they donít know where the exit is. One of the prisoners is shot in the back.

Two different groups of prisoners collide in the tunnels and in the semi-dark start fighting each other with their fists. The fire fight continues. Charlie films the action. They use a burning jeep as a blockade to keep the guards at bay.

Charlie says that he and the doc have to get out now. Otherwise no one will know what happened here. Then Charlie talks about a particularly POW character known as Baldy who was said to have killed nine persons with his bare hands in combat. Baldy finds a radio transmitter. He kills the Pakistani radioman.

The doctor operates on some of the wounded. Bess is the leader of the Russian group. Andrei has had a panic attack and would prefer to take his chances in a Pakistani cell. When Andrei starts walking away from the group, one of the men shoots him in the back yelling he is a traitor. Charlie yelled out no, so after shooting Andrei the Russian shoots at Charlie but doesn't actually hit him..

The Russian working the radio says the Russians hear them and now they are jamming them. Some American arrives and Charlie tells the guys with him that someone has to serve as a negotiator. Charlie and a Russian go out to the American, who is named Major Gordon of the US Army. Gordon tells the two men that they should stop using the radio immediately. Then they should lay down their arms and surrender. The Russian asks why should they trust the Major? Gordon says because they donít have any other way out of this situation and neither does Charlie Palmer. The Russians only have twenty minutes. The Russian is not at all pleased with the terms. Charlie says he has proof on film that the men are Russian soldiers on an Afghani base in Pakistan: "And thatís a scandal!"

Back with the Russian escapees they hear AK-47 shots and rush to see whatís the problem. One of their men was trying to surrender, a compatriot tried to stop him and the one who wanted to surrender shot him. Charlie tells the man to watch out. The man is shot twice and down he goes.

Charlie says there are a few soldiers whose position he just doesnít understand. Two of the soldiers are from Turkistan. They speak their own language together and their Russian is very bad. They usually avoid the Russians and the Russians donít really care. The religion and culture of the soldiers from Turkistan are much closer to the Afghans than the Russians. One of the soldiers is killed by a Pakistani gunman.

Baldy takes Charlieís identification papers and wonít give them back. He says now he is Charlie Palmer. Badly tells the others that they should divide up. He will take a couple of the healthy ones with him.

Charlie tells Victor who is still working on patients that there are only five minutes left, so letís go. Victor only tells him: "Youíre in my way."

Ten of the prisoners with more time in Afghanistan than the rookies sit around a fire and talk about what they should do. Charlie comes over and says itís time to decide because in three minutes they attack. The leader says that if anyone wants to leave they can. They will not shoot him in the back. Charlie tells the guys that this is suicide.

Charlie returns to Victor who says heís done everything he could for the men, but now some of them need operations. He adds that there is a decent hospitable in Peshawar. The men hear helicopters overhead and begin to think that the Russians are coming for them. One of the prisoners kills the wounded men. This really upsets Victor who now keeps repeating the Hippocratic Oath to himself.

Charlie says that the Soviets bomb their compatriots, who they see as a problem, a scandal. Itís evidence of the Pakistani involvement in the Afghan War. Exposure of what happened at the POW containment would just be an embarrassment to all. "The evidence has to be gotten rid of."

Charlie is partially buried under rock debris. He gets himself out from under the debris and tells Victor itís time to go home. But where is Victor? There are a few Russians still alive in the cave.

Charlie remembers in one of the interviews a prisoner told him that the Soviet authorities would take 17 and 18 year old boys to Afghanistan telling them that they were going to be building schools and roads in that country. The boys just ended up getting killed. "Itís just disgraceful!"

The soldiers feel betrayed by the Soviet government and calls them sons of bitches.

Charlie puts the barrel of a rifle in his mouth and shoots himself.

 

Not a good movie.  There is only a small bit of history about the Russian fight to take and keep Afghanistan.  Most of the action occurs within the prison caves where the Soviet POWs are kept. Virtually all light in the caves is red light and this makes it very hard to tell who's who.  And you don't really know these prisoners, so it's not like you feel bad as they die in fire fights with the Pakistanis.  There is a "surprise" ending, but I don't know if it's worth the wait.  The actor playing Charlie Palmer, the very pushy war journalist, was good.  There were no women characters to speak of.  It would have been more interesting if less time was spent on the action and more time spent on getting to know the Soviet soldiers sent to fight an unpopular war. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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