Fort Bliss

Posted by Joel Copling on September 28, 2014

As written and directed by Claudia Myers, "Fort Bliss" is as noble in its subject matter as it is maudlin in its treatment of it. For here is a movie that revolves around a female soldier in the U.S. Army who must juggle home life with the prospect, ever-looming, of new deployments to Afghanistan or elsewhere. It is a terrific idea for a film in a month when FOX News hosts speculate whether a female fighter pilot is "boobs on the ground," and its execution sometimes matches its ambition, notably in sequences that show the protagonist's devotion to her country. Unfortunately, the film also features on-the-nose writing and a particularly intrusive score that underlines, boldens, and italicizes every, solitary second. The melodrama causes a solid foundation to wobble and collapse before the halfway point.

This is most apparent when Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) comes home to Texas to see her five-year-old son Paul (Oakes Fegley), whose emotional connection to her has more or less vanished. She's been gone this time for 15 months--nearly a third of his life, a fact of which Maggie's estranged ex-husband Richard (Ron Livingston) wastes no time to remind her. The scenes of reconciliation between mother and child should be moving, but naturalistic though young Fegley's debut performance is, there is so little time spent on it--and so much more time spent on Maggie's struggle to see Alma (Ron Livingston), Richard's new fiancee and mother to a future child, taking up her role in her absence and budding, surprisingly sensual romance with an automechanic (Manolo Cardona) who fixes her car--the effect is undermined. It's a further shame, since Monaghan dominates in the role of hardened but haunted war veteran.

That aspect is much better, as Maggie flashes back to her time with a wrong-headed CO (Pablo Schreiber) and, in the present, comes to terms with commanding a group of soldiers who have problems with a woman doing the command, though distrust comes particularly from a combat-happy Sgt. Butcher (Gbenga Akinnagbe), to whom the job nearly passes on when Maggie opts to stay with Paul. Monaghan is at her best when in the uniform (The harrowing opening scene demonstrates Maggie's formidable medic skills); when Maggie returns to home, even a solid performance cannot maintain the wearying way that "Fort Bliss" trudges through melodramatic material with such a heavy hand. In other words, this is a good movie and a bad one mashed together and largely focused upon the bad one.

Film Information

Michelle Monaghan (Maggie Swann), Oakes Fegley (Paul), Ron Livingston (Richard), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Alma), Manolo Cardona (Luis), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Sgt. Butcher), Dash Mihok (SSgt. Malcolm), Pablo Schreiber (SSgt. Donovan), Freddy Rodriguez (Garver), John Savage (Mike Swann).

Directed and written by Claudia Myers.

No MPAA rating.

116 minutes.

Released in New York City on September 19, 2014.