The Good Soldier

The most shocking, graphic and effecting images in the new documentary “The Good Soldier” were those created in my mind from the stories told by the documentary’s five subjects.  These men are veterans from four American wars:  World War II, Vietnam, The Gulf War and The Iraq War.  Their stories reflect the irony of the film’s title.  Being a good soldier means having the ability to kill.  The interviewees are articulate, honest and their words heartfelt.  Watching and listening to them speak I was able to picture their stories as they were being told.

“The Good Soldier” goes beyond the “gung ho” aspect of the military to the actual business of killing and being in combat.  Is it information we may already know from other documentaries, movies and articles?  Perhaps, but here we are given an intimate perspective that tells a larger narrative through the experiences of a small group spanning generations and wars.

“The Good Soldier” has been particularly well edited in two ways.  It has the intelligence and patience to allow its subjects to pause, reflect and, when necessary, collect themselves before continuing to speak, without cutting away from them.  It also uses combat footage very appropriately to accentuate the stories being told and to serve as transitions that move the film forward.  Similarly, music is used very effectively and dramatically to underscore the emotions expressed.

The result is that we are drawn into the veterans’ stories in a visceral way. There are stories of friends killed in combat and accounts of soldiers killing civilians.  There is no resolution as to whether the civilians were innocent or allied with the enemy.

The veterans talk about the need within soldiers to kill as revenge for fellow soldiers’ deaths, as well as the addictive thrill that comes from killing.  “You can’t just turn on and off the faucet,” Gulf War Captain Michael MacPhearson says about the killer instinct instilled by the military.  Considering the recent Fort Hood shootings, his comment could not be more timely.  There are also descriptions of lives shattered and, in one case, guilt over having been wounded.  MacPhearson adds that maybe “The Greatest Generation,” a title associated with the World War II generation, will be the one that removes all reasons for war.

While I was taken with most of “The Good Soldier,” I felt it went on a little too long despite its scant 78 minute running time.  The subjects made their points well before the film’s conclusion and, as a result, it began to feel a little repetitive.  In addition, toward the end the documentary entered familiar “Born on the Fourth of July” territory as the veterans were shown joining anti-war movements.  While there is nothing wrong with this, the film was at its best when it stayed with these unique, open men describing their experiences.

“The Good Soldier” opens at City Cinemas Village East on November 11.

“The Good Soldier,” directors Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys, 2009,

Art License Films and Out of the Blue Productions, 78 minutes


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 8, 2009, in Documentary. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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