Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Film Review: Minus One

Andrew Gonyea
Communications Assistant

Minus One, a film about three Army Reserve soldiers who are suddenly called to fight in the Middle East, played at the GI Film Festival May 17. The film, which examines the soldiers’ final days preceding deployment (the title is short for “T-Minus One”), seeks to capture the emotional stress of the soldiers and their loved ones who must prepare to see each other for what could be the last time.

The film centers on 1st Sgt. David Solomon and his men, Sgt. James Whitmore and Pfc. Robert Montgomery. At the time Solomon gets the call and relays the news, each man is at a different point in his life. Solomon, who has already done a tour and seen combat, is a thirty-something professional handyman and divorced father with a young daughter. Whitmore is a young psychologist with a loving wife, burgeoning career and a child on the way. And Montgomery is a care-free college kid who spends his time hanging out with friends, drinking beer and chasing girls.

To cut right to the chase, the intent behind Minus One is noble, and the film does have its moments, but in the end, it fails in its aim. Between introducing the viewer to the main characters and showing their difficult good-byes, the film does very little to inspire a deeper sense of empathy and understanding. Many of the middle-scenes are puzzling in that they contribute little, if anything, to character development or a meaningful plot.

To give an example, a couple days before his deployment, Montgomery is shown drinking beer and playing video games with his friends. Upon losing, his friends make him go buy beer for their crew, even though he’s underage (“The dumb clerk probably can’t even read English,” his friend assures). So Montgomery goes to the store, buys the beer, but not surprisingly, is arrested when he stumbles into a police officer. At the police station, Solomon arrives and gets Montgomery off the hook. Later that night, Solomon and Whitmore take Montgomery to a bar so they can “supervise” his drinking. A few drinks and some in-fighting later, they end up in a bar fight with some other patrons, a police officer gets punched, and they all end up in jail, except this time, their commanding officer has to come get them all off the hook. The scenes I just mentioned take some time to play out, contain sparse and frivolous dialogue, and rather than convey the soldiers’ emotional stress, cause the viewer to wonder, “What was the point of all that?”

The best scenes of the film are when Solomon takes his men to the grave of his friend and fellow soldier, whom Solomon watched die in a confrontation with insurgents feigning surrender, and when Solomon and his ex-wife grapple with the news that he is heading back to war. Solomon’s horrific war experiences cause him to have flashbacks and he experiences the tell-tale signs of PTSD, and one can safely assume that his personal struggles were a large factor in his divorce. Solomon’s wife still loves him, and even though they’re divorced, it pains her deeply to see him have to go back to war when it has already caused them both so much grief.

Unfortunately for the film, the emotional impact of these scenes is diluted by too many aimless scenes like the ones mentioned earlier. One is left hoping that a future film will truly capture the emotional stress America’s Reservists and their families face as a result of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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