“6 Days,” directed by Toa Fraser and starring Jamie Bell, Abbie Cornish and Mark Strong is a historical film, outlining the events of the Iranian Embassy Siege in London in 1980. The British Special Air Service (SAS) conducted an overwhelmingly successful hostage rescue operation called Operation Nimrod, a 17 minute mission that wound up rescuing all but one of the hostages, and killing five out of six terrorists. It would become a hallmark of SAS proficiency and tactical skill.
The film received mixed reviews — it is, first and foremost, a historical piece. And like real life, there is no singular main character (though the story slightly favors Rusty Firmin, the SAS operative played by Jamie Bell). It would be disingenuous to presume that such a complex, tactical operation like that solely rested in the hands of one secret agent or Rambo character. The successes and failures in combat largely rest on the shoulders of multiple people, all working together to achieve an objective, and that was illustrated in this film.
The thing that struck me was the portrayal of combat and everything that surrounds it. I am not sure how accurate it was, movement by movement in comparison with the real operation, but it struck me with a sense of realism and brought back some of my own memories. I was never involved in a hostage rescue operation, or even a mission similar to this at all, but there were some fundamental elements that brought me back.
Of all the people who were voluntarily there (so, excluding hostages), the terrorists and the SAS were the only ones that chose to put their skin in the game. Everyone else definitely had some investment: the negotiator was personally invested in talking down the man on the other end of the phone, the reporters even shouldered some level of risk, though the police were in front of them, and the families back home were no doubt terrified for the fates of their loved ones who were hostages. But the image of Rusty Firmin in that hallway after getting stood down, seconds before they were supposed to make entry, made me realize just how different it is to be physically involved in that sort of thing. We are, for all our civilization, philosophies and moralities, physical beings in the end.
It was a perfect metaphor for the feelings of a soldier in combat. There are politicians and brass who are directly involved in the mechanics of what is going on — some of them care deeply, some of them are more concerned with their careers than anything else. There are families with everything invested into their loved one overseas, perhaps an even greater risk than physical life itself. But there is still something about the physical risk that makes everything a thousand times more real, and though the portrayal in “6 Days” was subtle, I believed it to be accurate.
Another thing that struck me was the realistic portrayal of the famous saying throughout the military, “adapt and overcome.” The mix-up with the SAS operative tangled up as they repelled downward, tied in with the inability to blow one of the breaching charges, on top of the broken window that alerted the terrorists as to their entry — it didn’t stop the operation. There wasn’t a moment of “oh shit, this is all going to hell.” They rolled with the punches, made entry and took the building.
The best portrayal of this was when the one interior door was barricaded, and the SAS couldn’t move from one room to the next. They are trained to clear in specific ways, but they are also trained to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. They didn’t sit there and deliberate on how to best engineer their way through the barricade — one of the men simply turned, left the building and climbed outside the adjacent room, entered through the window, only to find an enemy within, near the barricade. His weapon jams, but again, he does not sit there and deliberate; with a curse, he transitions to his sidearm and engages. He then continues to clear the barricaded room from the other side, coughing and heaving at the interior smoke — his buddies enter, clear and keep going.
What I appreciated about these moments was that, from a filmmaking perspective, the director did not feel that he had to insert additional drama into those scenes. He did not feel compelled to have tearful moments, or monologues about the weight of taking a life in the middle of combat. He didn’t even have the actors take off their gas masks so the audience could see their faces (a common choice by directors when it comes to masks or NODs). Instead of dulling the experience like many filmmakers are afraid it will, it brings the audience closer to reality, and the reality of a situation like that is far more intense and terrifying than any made up action sequence Hollywood might conjure up.
And lastly: the training. Most SOF guys haven’t done a mission like this, but the emphasis on training over and over and over again for a 17 minute mission is a perfect example of the warrior lifestyle itself. A very short time is actually spent in combat, certainly not in a firefight. You could train for years, just to successfully engage in a 30 second firefight, and if you come out on top, then all of the training was worth it.
All in all, I would recommend “6 Days,” though it is not the entertaining rollercoaster that is “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “The Matrix.” I love those movies, and not exclusively for entertainment, but I resonated with this one for entirely different reasons.
The news footage of the raid from the outside:
The trailer to the film:
“6 Days” is available on Netflix.
Images courtesy of Icon Productions.