Friday, October 3, 2014

Movie Review: Fort Bliss was recently afforded the opportunity to attend the San Diego Festival for free as a VIP guest on account of doing a small favor for a friend.  During all this, I got to see the movie Fort Bliss, on which my roommate Gabe Rivera was second assistant director: second unit.  It's been a good week.  Anyhow, this movie is powerhouse drama.  Fort Bliss tells the story of a female army medic, Maggie Swann, coming home from a fifteen month tour in Iraq and attempting to reconnect with her five-year-old son as some other issues swirl around. Dramas are usually tough to make, especially for American filmmakers, but Fort Bliss pulls it off.  It's a layered movie with more angles than it might have had which makes it richer.  Note to the sensitive, or perhaps to all: it does have a racy sex scene.  Lastly, the challenges of military service brought to the fore here are part of why I am mostly anti-war.

Dramas are perhaps the most challenging form when it comes to movies.  I've addressed similar issues, but with more regards to romance movies here.  Drama deals with inner conflict where as film is a medium of audiovisual empiricism.  It becomes a question of how to turn inward emotions into outward visible story beats.  No one wants to watch someone stare in contemplation for ninety minutes straight.  Europeans seem to have more the patience and subtlety for good drama, at least from the catalog of movies I've seen.  American movies are built around being large and action-filled.  When the underlying subject matter of a movie is inherently small, artists are to quick to amp up the melodrama to make up for the action void.  This often comes off as shallow and pretentious.  Fort Bliss avoids this.

The biggest thing that allows Fort Bliss to ignore this is that it is a layered movie with multiple conflicts and narrative lines rather than putting all the weight on one overplayed thing.  It is the story of a soldier coming home and readjusting to normal life.  This is the obvious angle for the material, but thankfully, there is so much more.  While I've never performed military service, I think most people can relate to the idea of coming from a structured environment filled with meaningful tasks to a vague and mundane one.  Even the details of life that seem better, such as the main character sleeping on a comfortable mattress, turn out to be foreign and alienating as she sleeps on the floor.  On top of this, she has to reconnect with her son who has his own separation issues, having spent a large chunk of his five-year-old life without his mother.  The son is cute and believable.  He is loved by his mother, but at his age, he can't share her issues.  Her ex-husband, who has left her for another woman, wants full custody of their son, as his mother spends so much time overseas.  Her brother-in-arms also demand much loyalty.  Lastly, and probably least, is a new lover that she has embraced in her vulnerability.

The main theme this movie seems to look at is balancing life's obligations and wanting the best for those in your sphere.  This issue is especially complicated for those in the military.  Maggie must balance duty to country with duty to family.  Her ex-husband's angry concern says that family should come first, but the higher-up at the military base seems to think the opposite.

Just as a warning, this movie does have a steamy sex scene.  (For the record, my roommate was disappointed with it, too.  He was not there when said scene was shot and he warned me.)  As a Christian, nudity is one of my few real taboos going into the movie theater.  I suppose the Catholic Church's position is roughly that pornography is always bad, but nudity is not always pornography.  In this case, there's enough of a gray area that I won't exhaust myself wagging my finger at others over it, but I myself will stay guarded.  I honestly found the sex scene here especially unnecessary, but the relationship between the two lovers is mildly interesting, albeit shallow.  The fact that the man wants something more and the woman wants a shallow fling twists traditional gender dynamics.

The issues brought up in this movie are a large part of the reason I sympathize with the libertarian movement when it comes to war.  America loves her military until it actually comes to the nitty gritty of taking care of them, whether we take their kids away for being deadbeat parents, as the potential scenario played out here, or the government covers up the source of their deaths for political reasons as with the VA scandals and possibly Benghazi.  A lot of issues need reformed, but going to war less would also be a strong solution to many things.  I'm obviously stepping into more complex territory here so I will stop before I have to back up a whole slew of positions, but a moving drama like this with its plausible scenario should make people think twice about these issues.

On the whole, I found Fort Bliss to be tremendously moving drama, although I was disappointed with the steamy scenes that keep me from recommending to a lot of people.

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