By Joseph Chebatte | Drama
4 soldiers capture a young Afghan boy. But their position is compromised...

Four soldiers from Australia are holed up in a room in Afghanistan, doing reconnaissance in a village. They are very different personalities with different worldviews, but they have to work together as soldiers, though the close quarters of their position make it harder to get along.

But their relative harmony is disrupted when a young Afghan boy enters the room. Startled and suspicious, the soldiers take the boy prisoner. He speaks no English, and the soldiers debate whether or not he's a spy scouting out the position of the soldiers for the Taliban. But in the unpredictability of war, the debate takes on heightened stakes as the world falls apart around them.

Written and directed by Joseph Chebatte, this short war drama is a powerful lightning bolt of a story, examining the tension between the knotty ethical dilemmas that come up in war and the split-second reactivity that combat often demands. When choices must be made quickly, outcomes often rest on the character and worldview of the men in the crossfires, for better or worse.

The film takes on specific directorial strategies that immerse viewers in the jagged, high-pressured environment of the war zone where these soldiers spend their time. The cinematography emphasizes the haze of grit and dust that they exist in, a cloudiness that mirrors the vagaries of their moral dilemma as it develops.) The camerawork never quite settles, creating a sense of visceral agitation but also emphasizing the soldiers as a group who need to work together in an environment full of uncertainty and danger.

The soldiers that emerge as more individual presences assert themselves through their differences: Thomas is more suspicious and paranoid, while Julian is more cautious and trusting. The dialogue and tempo are carefully constructed to delineate these differences, as are the performances by actors Toby Wallace and Julian Maroun who lead a solid ensemble cast. These differences are eventually sharpened as the young Afghan boy enters their orbit. The child poses both a moral dilemma: what do they do with him? Is he just an innocent child or is he a scout sent by the Taliban to sniff out the enemy's position? The soldiers' debate becomes a point of conflict between themselves -- just as the battle itself finds its way to them.

The gripping last movement of "Entrenched" brings together razor-sharp craftsmanship that elevates the suspense and tension, all while giving us a glimpse of the trauma of war and leaving viewers feeling just as embattled as the onscreen soldiers. Its final reveal perhaps answers the question that divided the soldiers so bitterly. But it also provokes thought about how our own deeply held convictions and beliefs intersect with our hastiest, most reactive decisions, and how that combination can lead to mistakes -- even potentially cataclysmic ones. When the rubble clears, we get an unflinching glimpse of our moral capacity, and the gap between who we think we are and who we truly are closes or widens.

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