Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 21st, 2021
Do Not Hesitate (Shariff Korver, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
In an unnamed Arab country, Dutch soldiers find themselves stranded for a few days, part of a convoy of trucks of which one breaks down. While the majority of the group returns to base, a select bunch are selected to guard the equipment until helicopters can be sent back. As they prepare camp for the night, one of them hears rustling in the bushes, panics and fires, mortally wounding the creature within, who turns out to be a goat. Soon, the animal’s caretaker shows up, demanding compensation. He’s but a boy, though he has the loud presence and rage of a much older man. No one can quite figure out how to calm him down. It’s his country, after all. Such is the setup of Do Not Hesitate, a tense drama from director Shariff Korver (PBS Masterpiece’s Fenix series) that explores the wages of war, especially on those not yet mature enough to process its costs.
The film begins with Erik (Joes Brauers, Secrets of War), barely a man, himself, at home in the Netherlands playing his drums with great energy. Done, he dons his uniform, straps on his pack, launches a goodbye to unseen parents, and walks out the door. Cut to the desert, where he and his fellow young soldiers interact in a friendly enough manner with local villagers, grooving to the techno beat they blast from their armored vehicles’ speakers. Except for their lead officers, one of whom is the lone woman among them, they are all just out of adolescence, if even that, excited by adventure but also scared of the unknown. They are, in short, extraordinarily ordinary, and react to what happens in ways far more common than we perhaps like to acknowledge.
They are also, in this case, invaders of a sort, even if their mission appears to peaceful, or at least of the peacekeeping variety. And when things go wrong – and they do – it no longer matters why they are there and what they set out to do. A gun in hand makes one dangerous, for impulsive decisions have dire, often fatal, consequences. Korver keeps us guessing as to the ultimate outcome of it all, and even after the climax continues the story so we can witness its profound aftermath. The film is very much a meditation on what happens when you throw unprepared youth into the crucible of battle, but also an examination of Western imperialism and its enduring legacy.
The ensemble, primarily made up of Brauers, Omar Alwan, Spencer Bogaert (Bastaard) and Tobias Kersloot (Hotel de grote L), is strong, committed to the moment, wherever it takes them. Their emotions, pain and violence emerge from fear and confusion, and for the survivors these will breed a stubborn refusal to acknowledge responsibility. We might not be able to forgive, but we should be able to understand, for the history of the world has no doubt been formed by others like them, for better or for worse. In Do Not Hesitate, the sins of humanity are on full display.