No Greater Love presents a second chance for a viewer to get another effective war story just in time for Veteran's Day
For the first hour of Justin D. Roberts' documentary No Greater Love, the title of the film seems like a contradiction. During this time, we witness several retired servicemen recounting the most harrowing days of their life that were followed by intense hospitalization, grieving, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the deaths of their fellow soldiers. How could these men be so in love with the thing or even things surrounding what ultimately killed their friends and changed their lives forever?
We come to find out that not only are these men tremendously selfless and courageous, but they are also given purpose and brotherhood by combat. One man even makes no qualms by saying that it's an addiction, and regardless of the amount of danger you're in when you're absorbed in it, you still want to go back into it after you've left. That summation is the direct definition of addiction, and while No Greater Love addresses its complexities by allowing the soldiers to give their deeply human accounts in the third act, the first hour of the film is dominated by powerful visual storytelling and candid interviews that put a name to the face of the heroism we so frequently claim to support.
From 2010 to 2011, Justin Roberts served as a chaplain in the infantry regiment known as "No Slack." Armed with a video camera as opposed to an assault rifle, Roberts captured a great deal of footage during his deployment in Afghanistan. He rides shotgun alongside a group of physically tough men as they infiltrate some of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan - so dangerous the Russians never charted them - with various goals in mind. One of their main motivations is to take out Qari Ziaur Rahman (nicknamed "QZR"), a man believed to be the leader of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. QZR has carried out vicious acts of slaughter on soldiers and even his own people. His rumored whereabouts are in the mountainous terrain of Kunar, which makes accessibility a tremendous issue.
Tracking down and attempting to kill QZR and his associates was part of the "Strong Eagle 3" operation, aided by the likes of J.B. Vowell, a colonel who provides great perspective thanks to his impeccable storytelling abilities. We hear testimonies from soldiers like Tom Low and Doug McKinnis, who describe the feeling of nearly being killed on the frontlines. Lowell recalls skepticism of a suspicious-looking female, but because he couldn't get the PID (personal identification) in time, him and several others suffered the consequences. He woke up in a haze, poking at parts of his brain matter with his gloved fingers before stumbling into an unconscious state.
Roberts also witnessed the suicides of his brothers in addition to piling fatalities with odds of success proving to be insurmountable. Through it all, Roberts engages the surviving members of several No Slack missions, all of whom safe at home but struggling to work a war in the form of their current mental states and homelives. One of the most troubling confessions comes from Bob Evans, a curly haired soldier who admits, in one of the film's most powerful moments, that he tried to get rehabilitated solely for his children upon coming home. However, since his return, his kids call another man dad and he is still having difficultly containing his emotions; now it's deeply affecting his personal life.
No Greater Love, stylistically, echoes that of a PBS documentary. It's linear and unambiguous, with clearly communicated emotions of soldiers' accounts and combat footage making up most of the finished product. It's a communicable style that makes it easy for the most casual viewer to absorb and at least understand the soldiers' testimonies on a surface-level. Roberts' videography is also shockingly clear, brilliantly captured with a GoPro camera that loans itself to immersion as he tries to get the best possible shot even as gunfire surrounds him.
For those who overlooked Jason Hall's Thank You for Your Service in theaters, No Greater Lovepresents a second chance for a viewer to get another effective war story just in time for Veteran's Day. Roberts' film recognizes that there are indeed multiple ways to tell a war story, but perhaps the most compelling way to tell it is like it is.
Steve's Grade: B