War Story

Posted by Joel Copling on August 4, 2014

A great lead performance can only bring one's film so far if there isn't enough justification for such commitment, and "War Story" is a prime example of this dilemma. For here is Catherine Keener, one of our finest current female actors, in a role perfectly suited to her talents but at the service of a thin screenplay and forced conflicts. The film is also undeniably an important one, shedding light on a profession--in this case, war photography--that isn't very publicized. It is a shame then that Kristin Gore and director Mark Jackson's screenplay impedes nearly all of the intended effected for a muted affair, solemn to a fault and hugely problematic because of it.

Keener plays the war photographer in question, named Lee and recently affected quite deeply by witnessing the pointless death of Mark, a friend with whom she had worked for quite a while. She wanders through a haze of a fractured jaw, a broken rib or two, and posttraumatic stress disorder, ignoring telephone calls from her boss and otherwise becoming an aimless, mopey type that really isn't very interesting to watch. It's a testament to Keener's abilities as an actor that we care about Lee, but that's no thanks to a script that seriously skimps on much development for Lee beyond her immediately previous situation. But even Keener's performance doesn't help what surrounds her.

Take Lee's first encounter with Hafsia (Hafsia Herzi, an unconventional beauty who deserves a breakout role), a refugee seeking houseroom from places that will not take her. Lee takes her picture without discovering who she is until later, a shameless and manipulative bit of foreshadowing that burdens the effect of their next meeting. From here, Lee becomes a makeshift guardian for Hafsia, seeking counsel from an old mentor named Albert (Ben Kingsley, wasted in a one-scene cameo about which one could easily forget before the credits roll) and planning to flee the country with the young girl. That's the extent of the failed emotional gut-punch that "War Story" is able to offer; the proceedings are oppressively dreary, despite the powerful presence at their center.

Film Information

Catherine Keener (Lee), Hafsia Herzi (Hafsia), Ben Kingsley (Albert), Vincenzo Amato (Filippo), Donatella Finocchiaro (Daria), Luana Toscano (Maid), Guido Caprino (Doctor).

Directed by Mark Jackson and written by Jackson and Kristin Gore.

No MPAA rating.

90 minutes.

Released in select cities on July 30, 2014.