Intense, riveting and...well, stunning in some ways
This is a brilliant movie with an amazing performance by Tajana Prka who plays a shell shocked (old terminology) woman soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The direction by Tarique Qayumi is tight, intense, and focused if somewhat unrealistic in spots. (I'll get to that below.) The film does something that no other film that I have seen even come close to doing, and that is make us feel the sheer depths of the PTSD affliction. Mattie is traumatized to the extent that she is no longer really human. She cares nothing for anything but her obsession. She cares not for her daughter, not for her loving and patient husband, not even for herself. It is a portrayal of madness, obsession and what seeing and doing horrible things can do to a human being.
The acting was superior overall. Even the bit players did a good job. I noticed nary a false note. Even the little girl (played affectingly by Brooke J. Ferrell) was excellent. When the entire cast or most of it is very good you can be sure that the director is one of the main reasons. I don't know how Tajana Prka, who plays Mattie Ridgeway, would do in a sitcom (nor do I care) but I cannot recall a more intense and utterly believable performance in such a demanding role. Charlize Theron's role in the film Monster (2003) comes to mind or, going way back, I recall Susan Hayward's Oscar-winning performance in I Want to Live (1958). Yes, Prka is that good.
The entire story is heart-wrenching for just about everybody involved. I suspect one of the reasons some people did not like the film or could not watch it, is because it is so tragic for not only Mattie, her husband and her daughter, and of course for her target (Baktoosh Nuri / Khalid Attaqi, played with creditable realism and balance by Bobby Naderi) but also for the bad guys who are exploiting him. Also probably not agreeable to a popular audience is the fact that there is nothing heroic here, just a terrible tragedy that is entirely real thanks to the madness of the wars in the Middle East. Still another reason some people did not like this movie is because some people don't like the idea of PTSD, believing that it is unmanly or fake. The singular thing this movie presents is the fact that PTSD is not fake, and to see a woman suffer from it to the point of becoming less than human is a very effective way to drive home that point. Some other people (chicken hawks, I might guess who like to imagine themselves big masculine war heroes on their living room couches) will not like the way the feminine/masculine roles are reversed here. James O'Shea, who does a nice job as Mattie's ever patient and loving husband, ends up doing the mother's job while Mattie madly pursues her obsession. The role reversal almost works as a parody of the world of a PTSD family, which is probably why some viewers thought that this was a parody. No, this is not a parody. This is a brutal depiction of one of the bitter fruits of war. There is nothing light-hearted about it.
Yes, I can find flaws with this, mostly in how miraculously she is able to follow this guy and especially how she got out of the hotel room without being noticed. I just happen to know what it is like to try to follow someone by yourself without being noticed. It ain't easy. The way the movie is filmed would never work. She would be spotted early on, especially under the circumstances of the life the target is living. And he would be paranoid to the gills after somebody let the air out of his automobile tire--actually, way before that.
This movie is especially relevant and important because there are so many people in this country who were happy to cheer our soldiers off to war but who are reluctant to take responsibility for what war did to them.
Incidentally, I also like the way the film shows just how absurd and ineffective torture can be.
--Dennis Littrell, author of the movie reviews book, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote"
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