Do Not Hesitate tackles many themes often seen in the war genre, but an arresting lead performance and assured direction allow it to stand out.
When a film is made that can be easily grouped into a single genre, there are certain characters, plots, and themes we can expect to see. Comedy films often have a character who is the butt of the jokes, while psychological thrillers tend to predicate their plots on a central twist or reveal. This is not a bad trend: most of the time we choose to see a movie because the advertisements have pitched a specific story to us. The fun comes in seeing how filmmakers take those conventions and morph them into something new and fresh. However, there’s something to be said for a film that doesn’t diverge from genre conventions, that delivers exactly what you expect without change or subversion. In Shariff Kover’s new military drama Do Not Hesitate, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, the themes and character archetypes often present in war films are used with minimal changes, creating a familiar but satisfying narrative that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
While the plot of Do Not Hesitate is undoubtedly that of a military film through and through, the same story would also work as a short story that ends up being taught in middle school classrooms across the country, similarly to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Somewhere in an unnamed desert, a Dutch military convoy on a peacekeeping mission becomes stranded when their vehicle breaks down, as they wait for help the arrival of a local boy causes tensions to rise to a haunting climax. Largely set in the area around the broken vehicle, Jolein Laarman’s script digs into the psyches of our protagonist Erik (Joes Brauers) and his squamates Roy (Spencer Bogaert) and Thomas (Tobias Kersloot) as they deal with everything from enemy soldiers to a lack of water. The soldiers’ commitment to peace and procedure is tested by Khalil, (Omar Alwan) a local boy whose goat was accidentally killed by the squad earlier. By setting the stakes of the story so low, Kover and Laarman avoid getting bogged down by scale and spectacle and ensure that each of the soldiers feels like a complete person by the end.
With a story so heavily focused on character, much of the success of the film lies on the performances, and in this area Do Not Hesitate excels. While there isn’t a weak performance in the cast, special praise must be given to Brauers, who serves as the main character of the story and whose arc we can see most clearly. The opening scene of the film shows Erik playing the drums with lively energy as the credits play, he is framed more like a boy than a man throughout the first act of the film even as he is thrust into leadership as events progress. While the rigid masculine code of the army discourages most emotions outside of lust and rage, Brauers is able to communicate empathy, worry, and confusion with simple nonverbal gestures and expressions, it’s a type of performance not often seen in the war genre but a more than welcome change of pace.
Of course, Brauer’s sublime performance would be nothing without the themes to guide it. Here is where Do Not Hesitate stumbles the most. Many of the ideas that the film tackles have been done before and better many times over. At one point, in a surprising moment of self-awareness, a solider says, “nice atmosphere!” before going to a loudspeaker and playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, a piece of music most famously used in Francis Ford Coppola’s war epic Apocalypse Now, a narrative that also sees its characters slowly succumbing to their worst instincts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though the themes are recycled they are still executed well. After the film’s shocking but inevitable climax, Korver allows the audience to witness the psychological fallout of the situation. Where many films would have ended, Do Not Hesitate lingers in the days and weeks after the story proper has ended, allowing for some particularly clever callbacks to earlier moments in the film that gives Brauers and company more chances to shine.
While those looking for a unique spin on the psychological effects of war will be disappointed by Do Not Hesitate’s staunch adherence to tried and true themes, viewers will be able to find much more to admire. Korver’s confident direction and keen sense of pacing ensures that each narrative beat doesn’t overstay its welcome. As stated before, Brauers is a revelation from the opening scene to the final shot, a true talent to look for in the future. Do Not Hesitate may not redefine what a military film can be, but it’s another solid addition to the genre and not a movie to be overlooked.
Do Not Hesitate premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Monday, June 14, 2021.