An uncompromised and visceral tale of a soldier’s quest for forgiveness, the Australian drama Jirga is a bit of a modern marvel when one thinks about how the film was even able to get made at all. Filming on location in Kabul and Jalalabad and using former Taliban members and locals as supporting players, this story of setting moral wrongs right lacks the polish of a similarly minded Hollywood blockbuster made from a similar concept, but the final results are all the better for it.
Sam Smith stars as Mike, an Australian soldier who travels back to the site of one of his biggest regrets and most painful memories. During a botched raid, Mike accidentally killed an innocent man in the line of battle; a man that the soldier knew had a family. Mike has returned to Afghanistan with hopes of being tried by the titular counsil, a group of village elders who pass judgments in such delicate matters. Upon arriving, big city locals and extremist militiamen alike tell Mike that his journey is basically a suicide mission, but the guilt wracked Army man persists.
Writer and director Benjamin Gilmour evocatively captures desolation and loneliness, both internal and external, throughout Jirga. The enormity of the task at hand feels appropriately weighty, impossible, and spiritually commendable, with Smith’s largely internalized performance of a deeply haunted man serving as the anchor. Unafraid to let large portions of his brief, yet powerful film play out without much dialogue (and in some effective and select cases sans subtitles), Gilmour’s film is one of the most bracingly original takes on the mental tolls caused by morally ambiguous wars. The film’s obvious budgetary and almost guerrilla-like shooting constraints are noticeable, but they somehow end up making Jirga all the more impactful. It feels alarmingly real.