Artistic reach meets hypnotic intimacy in Danfung Dennis' vital war documentary "Hell and Back Again."
Dennis, a noted war photographer, was embedded with a U.S. Marine unit as they dropped behind enemy lines in southern Afghanistan for a major offensive. When 25-year-old Sgt. Nathan Harris was wounded by a bullet to the hip, Dennis took his camera to North Carolina to film his reintegration into a life of Wal-Mart runs, physical therapy, creeping pill dependence and disturbing gun love, all while his supportive wife, Ashley, nervously stands by.
The result is a hauntingly bifurcated work, as Dennis uses visual parallels between his tense, you-are-there battlefield footage and homefront scenes of anxiety-ridden mundanity to create a flashback-jolting sense of Harris' emotionally fraught transition.
Some may balk at manipulating captured life for such blatantly subjective ends, but Dennis' skill at cutting image and sound — letting the noise of war bleed into home scenes, for example, or matching Harris' daily struggles in suburbia with the adrenaline rush of combat — has such empathetic purpose it has the power to devastate.