Given the absolute glut of documentaries produced about the military excursions into Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s surprising that so few have dealt with the experience of coming home. We know plenty about the moral and the political implications of the wars from Standard Operating Procedure and Taxi to the Dark Side: we know significantly less about the process of recovering from that experience, or what its implications for the rest of your life are. Against that background, High Ground feels like a breath of fresh air. Though it isn’t always as well-paced or assured a film as you’d like, its voice is reassuringly apolitical and positive.
One of the great clichés of war films is that every man (and in this case, every woman) fights a different war, usually involving personal demons left on the home front. That maxim is true of the soldiers in High Ground, but their fighting experiences are governed by one unifying quality: an ability to shatter, both mentally and physically. Once returned, though, they find some measure of solace in a surprising place: mountaineering. Many are missing limbs, and a few have lost their sight, but they train together for one of the greatest climbing challenges in the entire world: the mountains of Nepal.
High Ground, fortunately, doesn’t have much of a narrator presence. The veterans are generally allowed to speak for themselves, and for the most part, they are engaging (and frequently rather moving). It does, however, give the film the feeling of being shapeless, and distinctly lacking in momentum. It’s a defensible sacrifice, since the core of High Ground feels so sincere in comparison to its opponents on the playing field. What might have been a great web-series is instead a film that was never quite massaged into a coherent form, but is inspiring nonetheless.
There's also a trailer, audio commentary by the director, an audience reaction trailer, and some deleted scenes.
"High Ground" is on sale November 6, 2012 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Michael Brown. Written by Michael Brown, Scott McElroy, Brian Mockenhaupt, Ryan Fenson-Hood, Don Hahn. Starring Dan Sidles, Katherine Ragazzino, Steve Baskis.