Fort Bliss

Fort Bliss opened at just three theaters this weekend. One in Manhattan, one in Burbank, and at one in Fort Bliss, Texas. But if you are not living in the vicinity of those places you can catch the film on demand.

The skinny is that Michelle Monaghan plays US Army Staff Sergeant Maggie Swann, and as the film opens, she is in Afghanistan serving as a medic. She’s pretty good at her job, and by the time she gets back stateside, she will have won a Bronze Star.

She is a single Mom and her 15 month tour has shattered the bond she had with her young son Paul (Oakes Fegley) who is now five years old. While Maggie was overseas, the boy bonded with his father (Ron Livingston) and his girlfriend Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and doesn’t really remember all that much about his birth Mom.

But Maggie is a can do kind of person, and so, now that she’s back, she drags Paul off to come live with her in her Fort Bliss apartment. But none of that works too well. The boy needs time and care to warm up to his real Mom, and Maggie needs to time to adjust to living back in the USA. Her overseas deployment may be over, but she still replays events from over there in her dreams, which come to her when she is able to sleep, which isn’t often.

Written, directed, and produced by Claudia Myers, the film lacks what you might call cinematic polish. Maybe that is because Claudia Myers has not been a director all that long. Or maybe it is because the film is a low-budget indie. Much of it is slow or meandering, and we get plenty of signals as to what should be coming next. Only it takes its time, and here and there, you might find yourself getting fidgety.

But this is a film that works dramatically and is carried by the strong performance by Michelle Monaghan. As Sgt. Swann she’s tough without being brash, and you’ll believe it when you see it that she still has to prove herself on more than a few occasions both in combat as well as stateside.

Swann is not a Private Benjamin (1980) played by Goldie Hawn, nor is she a G.I. Jane (1997) played by Demi Moore. She’s also nothing like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien Franchise. This is a brave and courageous woman who will say pretty far into the film:

“I love my son and I love my country and I don’t think I should have to choose between them.”

And that viewers is what we have at the heart of the film which is also what is at the core of the character Maggie Swann. Last week, in a interview, NPR’s Wade Goodwyn said: When men go off to war, we understand better, you know, if not honor their sacrifice to serve their country. But [with] women, we are not quite sure how to think of that.

Claudia Myers replied: I think that what I wanted to explore is if she’s viewed differently as a mother leaving her child and a medic and a soldier as she would be if she were a father? The film is trying to present a situation in which there are no easy answers.

By that Myers is stating that why is there a difference about how men are viewed and how women are viewed when they do the same thing and that thing is going off to war.

Some say a woman who does this is self-centered and selfish. Others can point to this or similar circumstances as in a career oriented woman and then say this is a failed woman.

But I don’t think that Myers is making the statement that directly opposes those kind of extreme thoughts. I think she is more interested in forming the question and leaving the viewers to decide. Not to decide which is right and which is wrong, but instead to decide if the issue has been presented in a way that can reach any of us, man or woman, and make us consider the question.

As she says, there are no easy answers. The film might have been a polemic or it might have projecting a strong feminist perspective. But I believe the film has balance, and has dealt fairly with the men in the film, be they locals in Fort Bliss, Texas, including her ex. or Swann’s commanding officer back in the states, or her military colleagues in both Afghanistan as well as Fort Bliss.

I’ll score the film at three point five and recommend it, especially for Monaghan’s performance. Check out the trailer below:

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3 thoughts on “Fort Bliss

  1. For many screenwriters, a great acting performance is an inspiration. Watching Michelle Monaghan play the mother of a young boy in both Trucker (2008) and Eagle Eye (2008) inspired me to write DOUBLE RUNNER, the story of US mail carrier drawn into danger when her son’s letter to the North Pole crosses the path of a letter from an inmate at the Northern Correctional Institution, where her husband is incarcerated.

    If you stop and think about it, mothering gets little attention in Hollywood films, which may be one of the reasons there are so few good roles for women. Monaghan plays the best mother around and she’s raised the bar dramatically higher as the soldier/mother Maggie Swain in Fort Bliss.

    I hope today’s youth-oriented motion picture business remembers Monaghan’s mother courage performance when awards season roles around.

  2. Oh my hubby and I was just talking about Fort Bliss the other day. I like Monaghan, I think she is an underrated actress. I can see that the film is lacking ‘cinematic polish’ as you put it astutely, but I’m intrigued nonetheless by the story and the focus on a female soldier. I saw that the director is a woman too so that always piques my interest. Great review Mike!

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