I’m very sad that so few people have seen this movie (although, it’s still on VOD so you can if you wish). It’s a little film unafraid to talk about the big subjects. It’s because of the fearless nature of the film that I can bypass some of it’s shortcomings and simply focus on the powerful story of Maggie (the continually underrated Michelle Monaghan).
Directed by a woman and starring a female character as a decorated U.S. Army medic, this film immediately had my attention. For the number of war movies that exist, how many are about the women? I can think of the documentary The Invisible War and that’s about it. Fort Bliss was already introducing something fresh. Maggie isn’t just an army medic, but she’s an exceptional one. She becomes Staff Sergeant and we’re convinced of why her team would would her to lead them. She’s highly capable, highly controlled, she’s disciplinary without being cruel; she’s a true leader.
To add to my excitement there’s the main storyline of her relationship with her young son who is 5. She’s been away for 15 months on her recent tour, and while she’s excited to come back she’s not ready for the disinterest that greats her. While away she’s spoken about how ready she is to see her son and restart her life with him, but she never took into account that she’s been away for a third of his life. It doesn’t help matters that her ex-husband has started a new life with another woman, a woman who has become a mother in her sons eyes. Maggie doesn’t know how to accept this, so she plainly doesn’t. She hauls her son out of his happy existence and brings him to live with her. It’s a rocky, and likely traumatic start for her son, but she’s determined to make it work, even if her lifestyle isn’t the most convenient. It’s nice in a sense to see just how tumultuous this relationship is. Children aren’t always going to understand why they’re mom or dad are away for big chunks of their lives, and they aren’t always going to accept it and re-building that foundation is going to be tough. Maggie is good at her job, she loves serving her country and it’s all she knows. She also wishes to build a connection with her son. There’s a legitimate conflict here and the movie never creates an easy answer for her and she doesn’t immediately get to have both.
Michelle Monaghan plays Maggie beautifully. She’s strong willed but not untouchable, she’s hardened but not invulnerable and she makes mistakes and doesn’t know how to delicately approach her strained relationship with her son at the start. There’s also the revelation of past, traumatic experience that she shared with someone she believed to be a friend, that’s eerily true to life of women’s experiences in active duty.
Monaghan should, reasonably, be in talks of Oscar discussion, but alas.
She also get’s her own romance subplot and it’s beautiful, and the sex scenes never seem gratuitous but rather further her character development and it’s all wonderfully done because she’s never relying on her relationship to work. She enjoys it, and she enjoys him, but it’s never the end all be all to her happiness or her worth. Manolo Cardona plays Luis and he and Monaghan share ridiculous, palpable chemistry and I wouldn’t have minded an entire movie focused just on them.
It’s yet another example of why women telling stories is important because rarely do we get stories about female characters that feel as authentic as this. Maggie doesn’t wear make-up and it’s never exaggerated or made into a big deal, Maggie isn’t perfect, or idealized or a conceptualized human being, she’s just a woman trying to make the best out of a very hard situation, and she seems real because of it, flaws and all.