"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

31 October 2009

American Son

I stumbled onto Nick Cannon's indie film American Son recently. I am always a little skeptical about Iraq war films, as they tend to be politicized or just laughably bad. (Home of the Brave- I'm talking to you.) However, I was surprised by this one.

It was actually pretty good.

The story follows Mike, the main character, a boot Marine on leave before his first deployment to Iraq. He is about as green as he can be, an infantryman who just finished SOI. The film is an intimate look at the mix of emotions that is a young man's last trip home before heading to war. It shows the tension, the melancholy, essentially the shadow that hangs over such visits. Iraq is in the main character's head during everything he does. When he finally reveals to those he cares about that his deployment is emanate, you see how Iraq becomes a part of everyone around him.

The film shows Mike's internal journey, as his last hours at home count down. The film does a good job of showing the very personal journey each warrior must go through on these trips. You know each Marine is trying to fit as much life as possible into the next 96 hours. There are a million things he has always wanted to do, a million people to see one more time, a million conversations that need to be had, a million fears to push away, a million questions to answer. Does he rush a new relationship he doesn't have the luxury to develop slowly? Does he make peace with the family issues from his past that hang over him? Does he explain to his beloved little sister what is about to happen? Does he meet with the young, wounded, wreck of a Marine who lives near his new girl and longs for the camaraderie that was ripped away from him, when her family asks? Can he afford to put those images of the worst case scenario in his head?

The film shows the changes that happen in a Marine that are made evident for the first time when he rejoins his old crew. He is now a little more mature, a little more controlled, a little more somber. He sees his old life in a new light, and must reevaluate his friendships, and himself.

You go on this journey with Mike, gradually coming to realize with him that there simply isn't enough time to resolve all he needs to resolve. The world he left to become a Marine has changed while he was gone, and will continue changing when he leaves again, and he will be left even further behind. Mike, and the audience, must decide if this is a good or bad thing. Maybe it is a little of both.

I found the final 1o minutes particularly moving. He says goodbye to his family, convinces his mother for the first time that he will be alright, then attempts to reconcile with his stepfather as he comes to realize and give voice to the idea that he might not come out of it ok after all.

As his leave comes to an end, he packs up and prepares to say goodbye to his family. The film captures that awkward, heavy, aching moment where one has to choose what to say, when you are essentially saying goodbye. But there are a thousand things left unfinished, undone, and unsaid. The film ends on that uncertainty as Mike finishes his journey home, and begins a journey of a whole other kind.

Really my only complaint involves the special features. Why is it that so many people find the military so complicated, particularly people who make movies? They refer, on many occasions, to scenes on the "Army base," or to "Army guys," or "Army uniform." Specifically, when talking about a shot in the commentary, one of TPTB exclaim, "That's not really an Army base, that's a school." Hello! Your main character is a MARINE! Why would a MARINE be living on, and subsequently leaving an ARMY post?! Does that really make sense in your head!? You refer to the character being stationed at Camp Pendleton. I've been there. Camp Pendleton makes it easy. They put United States Marine Corps on the sign for you, just in case you forget what branch of the service you are dealing with. And how hard is it to hire a military technical advisor that can correct this ignorance? I know you had one, you showed him in the behind the scenes feature! If you can't find the advisor, can't you ask the family whose house you shot the film in who has a son in the Marines? I'm pretty sure they will tell you their son deploys from a Marine Corps base. That is my pet peeve. Stupid things that are easily corrected if the filmmakers were willing to put a little bit of effort into learning about the subject they are making a movie about.

I guess I find it hard to believe there are people in the world that are so disconnected from the military that such a mistake wouldn't seem unfathomable to them.

But other than that, pretty good movie. And they keep the politics out of it, which is such a difficult thing for Hollywood to do.

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