Review: Fort Bliss

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Fort BlissI admit that military movies are not usually my thing. The ravages of war are just too severe for me—they almost always graphically depict hundreds of people getting blown up or shot, and no matter if they’re the “good” guys or the “bad” guys, I just can’t get over the fact that they’re somebody’s parents, somebody’s children, and I’d rather not see it happen. But Fort Bliss is that rare military film that had me riveted and emotionally involved from start to finish. This small movie starring Michelle Monaghan, Ron Livingston and Emmanuelle Chriqui (whom you’ll remember as Vince’s girlfriend in Entourage) is one of the most extraordinary military movies I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps that’s because it’s not really about death, but about life after and in between. Soon after Monaghan’s character Maggie Swann heroically faces one of the most intense battlefield situations I’ve ever seen, she returns home to…an indifferent ex-husband (Livingston) and her five-year-old son, who doesn’t remember her and doesn’t even want to try. The film follows her struggle to readjust. Is she better as a mother or as an Army medic? Because she’s female, most people are scandalized that she’d even ask.

Fort Bliss is a little reminiscent of Hurt Locker, but it’s coming from a woman’s perspective. It’s not nearly as manipulative, however–you could count on Hurt Locker to liven things up with an intense, bomb disarming scene every 20 minutes. But Fort Bliss is more about explosive emotions, mistakes and realizations, which to me are far more subtle and satisfying.

It’s interesting that both films were directed by women. Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow may be the femme director du jour, but Fort Bliss writer/director/producer Claudia Myers shows true signs of joining Bigelow at the top of the heap.

Whether you see this movie in theaters or on VOD when it opens on Friday, Sept. 19, know that you’re in for a deep, emotionally satisfying experience. I can hardly write about it without tearing up. You’ll need at least an entire packet, if not a whole box, of tissues.

Not yet rated

1 hour, 49 minutes

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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

1 Comment

  1. james horn on September 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    This clip is pretty emotional. I can understand her being torn between her son and her duty…. a duty to those whom she left behind. There is something called ‘survivor guilt’ which a lot of folks from the the Vietnam period to the present actually suffer from. I don’t like the word ‘suffer’ but it is something that grates on one’s soul when one comes home and has to leave friends, ‘brothers and sisters in arms’ back there. The anxiety wondering if they’ll be O.K. and the feeling of cowardness for not sticking it out until they can all come home together.

    Congrats on your many successes, this being only the latest. I’m sure that with your drive and Jim’s encouragement, you will only continue to grow and prosper.

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