This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Solid work by actor Michelle Monaghan, who was terrific as Woody Harrelson’s wife in HBO’s “True Detective,” is the main attraction in Claudia Myers’ “Fort Bliss,” which examines the battles a female soldier faces when she returns to the home front. Although competently made, the film is such a run-of-the-mill military melodrama that it might have skipped its assuredly brief theatrical appearance and gone straight to VOD.
The seemingly interminable conflict in Afghanistan having become America’s longest war, it’s hardly surprising that it (like the now-reviving Iraq War) has produced a spate of dramatic movies about its human costs for American soldiers. These generally break down into those that observe the action “in country” and others which chronicle the after-effects on returning soldiers. “Fort Bliss” starts out looking like the first type of movie but soon transforms into the second.
The tale opens in the heat of battle as a U.S. convoy is attacked while on a night mission and all hell breaks loose. In a chillingly gruesome scene, Army medic Maggie Swann (Monaghan) faces the task of extracting a large piece of ordnance from a badly wounded but still conscious soldier. Her cool expertise at performing this torturous action shows that she’s a battle-hardened pro. Fortunately for her, it’s her last day in Afghanistan. But next up, she’ll test the maxim that it’s harder going home than going to war.
Back in the U.S. at the eponymous fort, Maggie first has to deal with the extreme disaffection of her five-year-old son, Paul (Oakes Fegley), who during her latest tour of duty has been living with her ex-husband Richard (Ron Livingston) and his current wife. When Maggie comes to pick him up, the boy looks at her as if she’s a stranger and screams his head off as she takes away with her. While the strength of this antagonism stretches credulity somewhat (wouldn’t such distant parents be in constant touch with their kids by Skype?), the scenes between mother and son, which gradually grow warmer and more affectionate, convey the difficulties that long separations cause families.