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SSG Swann was in the Afghanistan conflict as a combat medic, and she was exposed to some situations that no human that has not been in combat could understand. I think the film gives viewers a taste of what the most simple encounters there were like. I think it does a great job of explaining that sometimes you can never ever talk to your family or friends about your combat experience, or face judgement from them because of it. I'm not a female, and I'm married with kids, but I have personally witnessed this type of situation unfold. I've only discussed the most....I guess Boring parts... with them. There were some factual errors, sure, but they weren't too far off. If it weren't for the small factual errors (commissary open at night, what?), this would definitely get 10 stars from me.
After a 15 month tour in Afghanistan, decorated Army medic Maggie Swann
(Michelle Monaghan) returns to a cool reception. Her ex-husband Richard
(Ron Livingston) is engaged to his pregnant girlfriend Alma (Emmanuelle
Chriqui). Her son Paul doesn't remember her and views Alma more of a
mother figure than her. She is still struggling with traumas from the
tour and regular life is hard for her.
I really love Michelle Monaghan's performance as the hardened Maggie. Her relationship with her son is compelling. In fact, I prefer the movie just concentrating on that and leave out the romance. There's nothing wrong with the love story but it feels common. The mother-child story feels fresher. It takes the often-repeated story on a less traveled road.
I served 8 years in my state militia which is overseen by the National Guard. My father and stepfather served the military during wartime. My oldest son was deployed to Afghanistan. My wife served in the military for 27 years which meant that for the 21 years we have been together, I have been a military spouse. When she deployed to Kosovo a few years ago, I was stressed out to the max. Non-military people did not understand how I felt at all. My nine-year old son missed his mother badly. Upon my wife's return, we watch this movie and it brought tears to our eyes. It is raw, genuine and hits you between the eyes with military reality. I am very honored to have recently met Claudia Myers, the director, and I am very impressed with her passion to show military life as it actually happens. This is honest film making at its finest.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie stars Michelle Monaghan as Army Sergeant Maggie Swann, and
her performance carries this movie. We have several young friends, male
and female, in the military and this take opens your eyes to the
The first 6 minutes of the movie shows Swann in action, in Afghanistan, as a medic. There is a tense scene where a soldier has an active device embedded into his side and Swann has to cut into him, in the field and without anesthetic, to remove it, possibly risking detonation.
That is her life, she is tough, she is good at it, she doesn't flinch.
But when she gets back to the states, to her post at Ft Bliss near El Paso, Texas, she finds life there almost harder to deal with. Her son was 3 1/2 when she left, now he is 5. He doesn't seem to remember her, and resists, but she doesn't want to leave him with her ex-husband and his fiancée. Plus she gets put in charge of training a new group of medics to be deployed in 6 to 9 months.
This movie has no easy answers, it shows how difficult military service, especially in times of war, can be on soldiers, males and female alike. Monaghan is nothing short of superb and looking every bit the part.
SPOILERS: She is told that her 'temporary' training assignment was changed and she will be deployed again. Instead she swings a change, 2 years in Korea, where she can take her son with her. But literally in the last hours the sergeant she vouched for to take her place had a breakdown of sorts, she realized the mission and the safety of soldiers hinged on it, so she accepted the deployment, and in the emotional penultimate scene she has to tell her son goodbye again, not knowing if she would return to him. The final scene shows her back in Afghanistan, wearing two watches on her arm, and noting it is her son's bedtime back in Texas.
Having sat on the sidelines of various action movies and thrillers,
including but not limited to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Source Code, Mission
Impossible: III and this year's True Detective, it's great to see
Michelle Monaghan lead a good meaty drama. It's a premise also explored
this year with Clint Eastwood's American Sniper but arguably one more
interesting through a mother's eyes.
Returning home from duty, medic Maggie Swann (Monaghan) finds herself replaced in her son's eyes by her (Ron Livingston in a good small role) ex-husband's new wife (Emmanuelle Chriqui). As a result of her frequent absences, he doesn't even recognize her. Taking custody back from her ex, she tries to reinstate herself as her son's mother, starting their relationship with a fresh slate. Fort Bliss captures the anxiety of the fact that we can get to a point where we can no longer catch up, no matter how close we should be.
Maggie thrives in service more than motherhood. She's not a bad mother by all means, but sometimes she simply lacks the patience. Monaghan plays it stern but sensitive, holding her cards close to her chest only revealing aspects of herself when necessary. It's a very controlled and layered performance that shows what she can do when given the leading opportunity.
I just wish the kid actor, Oakes Fegley, wasn't so unbearable. Sure, the kid is a brat, that's the point, but it's near intolerable. His performance is not well measured, or guided by writer/director Claudia Myers into a passable unrestrained performance like Noah Wiseman in this years The Babadook. The film hinges on the kid and as he lacks charisma the goal of bonding with him is not an enticing one.
The plot glides perhaps a little too smoothly, though it is very character orientated. For instance, Maggie suggests whether her son wants a bigger room to run around in and the next minute they've moved house. The writing often lacks a sensitivity to consequence when the tone of the performances and photography suggest otherwise. It could have benefited from a lot more focus as assorted characters and flashbacks drift in and out of Maggie's life without enough development to justify their prominence.
Although it needed various trimmings, the power of its main ideas remains stark. Besides the idea of losing touch with those you should be closest to, it subverts the mother and father role in this context, questioning why when men have to work it's fine yet when women have to it means they're a bad mother. It puts you in a very interesting, if justifiably confrontational perspective. The film isn't all agenda driven arguments with a few tense Hurt Locker style passages to reveal more about the why of Maggie.
Combined with the great performances, it has an appropriately desert bleached and subdued shaky-cam cinematography mixed with a Gustavo Santaolalla-esque score to give it a rugged aesthetic.Fort Bliss is an often intimate and involving film, but it doesn't offer enough to be completely satisfying unless you relate to it in a very specific way. But this is the Monaghan show and it's is essential viewing for any fans of her work so far. If only she could get some kind of awards traction, it would be thoroughly deserved.
Read more @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com/)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
And not much more. The acting is pretty decent though, but the past
couple of years have produced way to much American propaganda (Camp X-
ray, American Sniper, etc).
The story line was sort of interesting and the twist of the mother re- enlisting was a delightfully unexpected turn of events, as well as the Mexican guy and her not making any promises when they said goodbye. I tried to interpret this as two lives ruined by war, which is a much more realistic representation of reality than expecting a "happily ever after" kind of ending.
The last scene was fairly sad, but if you go to Afghanistan to fight for the world's leading warmonger and terrorist organization, the United States of America, this is what you can kind of expect.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A wonderful but heartbreaking little gem, with Michelle Monaghan
turning in a world-class performance not unlike Emily Blunt's in Edge
of Tomorrow. God, can she be tough, especially in the scenes where she
goes toe to toe with fellow soldiers--not all of whom are, shall we
say, evolved. Speaking of evolved, the scenes of development between
her and her son are first-rate, and the kid is remarkable (unless, like
Shirley Temple, the director told him his puppy had just died before
his big scenes.) From my own experience with the new and improved
all-volunteer army as well as with the Vietnam era Big Green Machine, I
think the writer-director absolutely nailed the catch-22 world in which
the troops find themselves. Torn between loyalty to family and duty,
the insatiable demands of a too-small force with too many endless
missions, and everybody, from the beleaguered O-3 who has lost his own
family to the squad leader E-5 who sees only his own selfish need,
without a clue to the dueling pressures upon his platoon sergeant.
This movie, little as it is, forces us to really see the consequences of what we blithely demand of those few poor enough, idealistic enough, or loyal enough to sign up for what turns out not to be the gateway to a better life but rather an endless treadmill that grinds them and their loved ones up while the rest of us sit back here with our stupid yellow ribbon car magnets and "thank them for their service." This movie should be required viewing in Congress and the White House.
Was lucky to score tickets to see Ft. Bliss at the close of the G.I. Film Festival this weekend. I saw the trailer online before I went, but I really wasn't too sure what to expect. First, it was very cool to see the actors and writer/director attend the premiere, and they took questions afterward, which was cool. But once the lights dimmed and the movie started, and everyone got settled it, it is an intense and very well written and acted movie. I knew Michelle Monaghan and Ron Livingston, both of whom were really good (Ron LIvingston was definitely different than in the other roles that I was used to seeing him play. He has come a long way since Swingers, although he is still money). But the other actors who I didn't know were good too, including the kid. During the question and answer part, they said that the movie will be released for distribution in the fall. I watch a lot of movies on cable, but this was definitely worth a few hours of my time to see it in the theater. One final word: If all women in the army were as hot as Michelle Monaghan (who was really glamorous in person), everyone would want to enlist!!
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