Directed by: Samuel Gonzalez Jr.
Written by: Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Christopher Lang
Starring: Kit Lang, Arturo Castro, Jonathan Peacy, Arielle Brachfeld, Jason Vail, Emily Trosclair
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
Genre: War / Drama
As a disclaimer, we were approached by the film’s publicity team to provide a fair and honest review of the film. Nothing in this review or score has been influenced by this, and we were offered no compensation for the review.
Battle Scars tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who fails to readjust to life after the war. Part graphic war movie, part heist flick, and part drama, this film is all over the place while still being focused on the idea of the effects of war on the psyche.
Coming in at shorter than 90 minutes I expected a hurried roller coaster of blood, guts, and tears, but I was pleasantly surprised at the movie’s pace. The beginning establishes the characters as distinct personalities, Castro in particular standing out despite his small role while Lang supplies a steady foundation of quality acting for the film’s story and action to play out upon.
I was also impressed by the camera work and cinematography. Nothing is overdone and the war scenes are startlingly realistic and brutal, though they don’t occupy much of the film.
And while many of its themes might have been overdone throughout the years, its plot is quite original. It handles the trope of trauma following war and develops it into a bit of a heist movie. Although there’s no time to include many of the aspects traditionally present in heist stories, the scenes that form this part of the movie are probably the highlight of the entire film. Turning the focus from war to heist, while all along maintaining the theme of war trauma, helps lock in one’s attention until the end.
From a technical standpoint I think the direction was excellent in this respect. Mr. Gonzalez combines a thoughtful runtime, a streamlined script written together with Christopher Lang, who also stars in the film, and solid cinematography in creating a whole film that feels complete and interesting.
Still, it’s not a perfect movie.
The movie handles these heavy themes while ignoring other related questions, like why do the friends agree to go to the war? We are shown glimpses of protests, but the idea of avoiding the draft isn’t even mentioned prior to leaving. As they’re introduced we’re shown no reason for the main characters to be unquestioningly going to the war, yet they don’t even discuss dodging the draft together. The conversation is basically, “I got the letter, so I’m going.” I was interested to see the fear of being drafted manifest in a conversation about possibly avoiding the draft in one way or another. This lack of desire to avoid the war makes it difficult for the viewer to feel bad for the characters; as I watched the sad moments I had no empathy for them because it felt as if they chose to go. If there had been a couple scenes involving escape attempts or contrary discussion before ultimately being forced into the war, I think it would have made for a more emotional film.
Overall, Battle Scars is a carefully and thoughtfully made war movie, but it places itself firmly on one side of the moral dilemma that the film focuses on yet ignores. It does a wonderful job illustrating the emotional damage that war induces, but it completely ignores the chance to address the moral folly of war. This lack of thematic development and biased view of war ultimately makes it difficult to care about the characters. While I thought it was a technically good film in almost every respect, I didn’t care for its values or characters.