"Fort Bliss": The Other Side of War

“Fort Bliss” has all the makings of a Lifetime Original Movie in theme. A decorated U.S. Army medic and single mother returns home after touring in Afghanistan to face a troubled relationship with her five year old son. The film however, is far from a Lifetime movie! It’s a character study that civilians probably have never thought about, and the military community knows all too well.

If “The Hurtlocker” spends 90% of it’s time in the war and 10% at home, “Fort Bliss” is just the opposite. In fact, you could say that it picks up where it left off. Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) has been through it. We first meet her on the battlefield where the tough-as-nails medic saves a soldier who has a live explosive device lodged in his stomach. She’s a hero to the core, can hang with the boys, but wouldn’t take credit for anything but doing her job. Upon arriving home in the states she’s greeted by...no one. Her ex-husband Richard (Ron Livingston) meets her outside of the welcome facility to explain that her son doesn’t want to see her after her extended tour has left him with few memories of her.

This is where the real fight of the movie takes place. Swann desires to reconnect with her son Paul (Oakes Fegley) and goes to pick him up to take him home with her, but it’s an uphill battle. He’s been under the tender wing of Richard’s girlfriend Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and doesn’t want to leave. Monaghan does fantastic work in this film, as from the beginning you can read so many thoughts on her face without her saying a word. You can tell she’s decompressing and trying to turn off the battle she just left in Afghanistan, while at the same time trying to fight for the love and connection with her son that they once shared. How do you get there? On the battlefield orders are made and actions take place, but when it pertains to someone’s heart...things aren’t so simple. Every decision Swann makes stems from the tug of war between her professional and personal emotions and ideals.

Written and directed by Claudia Myers, the film is a labor of love as Myers poured years of research into it. The balance of character driven drama and action on the battlefield is exciting to watch. It’s Monaghan’s performance that grounds the film in a real, tough, and universal struggle that anyone can relate too. The film opens today in select theaters and everywhere on Video On Demand. Check it out if you want to see a war movie that sheds light on the side of war we tend to forget, but should have a healthy respect and appreciation for!

Rating: B+


Check out my interviews with some of the stars of the film at the GI Film Fest earlier this summer!

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