When we think of the term “casualties of war,” we might think of bodies blown apart by explosions and shrapnel. Or maybe the image that comes to your mind is a flag-draped coffin being unloaded at the airfield. You may picture people crying by a casket being lowered into the ground. However, there’s a certain type of casualty that doesn’t get a whole lot of thought sometimes: the family of the soldier and how they deal with their loved one being gone for so long, often with the thoughts that they may never come back home again.
In writer/director Claudia Myers’ Fort Bliss, we see another side to the War in Afghanistan: the homecoming of embattled and shell-shocked soldiers to homes that no longer include them. Myers explores this and a lot of other themes in Fort Bliss, making it a captivating and powerful experience. This story is told in a very matter-of-fact style, with no big score moments or overdramatic frippery, lending the film credibility and believability. Anyone expecting hysteria or soap opera salaciousness will be disappointed; get ready for a dose of a sad reality that does actually exist.
The film opens on US Army medic Maggie Swann’s (Michelle Monaghan) last days of her second deployment to Afghanistan, which includes being caught in an IED attack and having to pull an unexploded rocket grenade out of a soldier’s side. Compared to that, you’d think that coming home would be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. Her ex-husband Richard (Ron Livingston) and her 5-year-old son Paul (Oakes Fegley) aren’t even in the welcoming room at Fort Bliss when she gets home. When she finally does catch up with both of them, she finds out that Richard’s getting remarried to a woman named Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Worse, Paul doesn’t even know who she is and only wants Alma as a mom, which only adds to the frustration of her custody situation.
To add to all this, she’s also been reassigned as a Staff Sergeant to help train a new platoon getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, because her CO Garver (Freddy Rodriguez) can’t find a replacement. The only solace she can find is in the arms of a relative stranger, car mechanic Luis (Manolo Cardona) and the few beers she has at the end of the day. And with a possible redeployment looming, can she finally connect with the people that she needs in her life, or will she lose them forever?
Fort Bliss makes Maggie represent a lot of issues in today’s world: the role of women in the military and at home, single motherhood, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the emotional and psychological disconnect between soldiers and civilians. It also explores how one has to juggle one’s devotion to their family and to their country, and how the choice between the two can break somebody. There’s no winner in these proceedings, because like Las Vegas regulars know, “the house always wins.” Instead, we can only make the best choice we can with the cards we have.
This film’s muted quality also speaks loudly in its quiet scenes. We might be watching Maggie try to reintegrate herself into a daily life that doesn’t involve bombs exploding or her having to fix a broken, bleeding soldier. It’s an everyday struggle that Fort Bliss brings to the fore, calling attention to the hurt and the pain that nobody sees. Monaghan sinks her teeth into the role of a lifetime, playing an exemplary soldier and balancing it with being a less-than-exemplary mom to a boy she barely has a handle on. Each performer brings a rawness to this film that starkly delineates the film’s themes, unmistakably representing each conflict Maggie has in her life. When the film’s denouement comes, don’t be surprised if you’re just as emotionally caught up in it as Maggie is.
» MOVIE REVIEWS » Fort Bliss
Claudia Myers, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Fort Bliss, Freddy Rodriguez, Manolo Cardona, Michelle Monaghan, Movie Review, National Picture Show Co., Oakes Fegley, Phase 4 Films, Ron Livingston, Yeniceri Produksiyon A.S.