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Fighting Season, A
USA 2017
Directed by Oden Roberts
Running time 82 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars



Synopsis: It is 2007 and U.S. Sgt. Mason (Clayne Crawford) who was injured in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq is sent back home and reassigned to a regional recruiting office run by Sgt. Harris (Lew Temple). He finds himself trying to enlist young men and women who have no idea of the realities of war.  Nor for that matter has Sgt. Harris.

Although the specific historical context for writer-director-cinematographer-producer Oden Roberts’ film has passed and that lessens its impact somewhat A Fighting Season nevertheless remains a powerfully eloquent film, one that particularly for a debut feature makes astonishingly effective use of its evidently limited means. Whilst of course there is a creative team that underpins the production, the success of the film depends most crucially on Roberts’ script and the compelling performances by Lew Temple and Clayne Crawford.

A 2003 graduate of NYU's Film School, Roberts’ based his script on his own experiences of being recruited by the US Army while he was still in high school. The film’s primary agenda is to expose the dubious mix of manipulation and lies that the Army used to persuade naïve kids (and their parents) from the lower socio-economic sections of society, including juvenile offenders. to sign up with Uncle Sam. Dramatically this  purpose is embodied in the contrast between the two leads.

With impressive economy Roberts sketches in Sgt. Mason’s back-story, opening the film with him abusing Iraqi prisoners, behaviour inspired perhaps by his having being injured by an IED (improvised explosive device) attack on his troop carrier. The good news is that as a result the Army believes him psychologically unfit and repatriates him, the bad news is that he is given the task of recruiting young men and women to take his place. Compounding Mason’s problem is that his boss Sgt. Harris is a blow-hard and a bully who despite his macho swagger has never seen action.  In fact, Mason is the only person in the recruitment office who has.

The phenomenon of  battlefield PTSD has been seen before in Jim Sheridan’s Brothers (2009) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) but A Fighting Season gives us a fresh take on the subject by looking at the Army’s own cynical culpability and the gulf that lies between rhetoric and reality.

Clayne Crawford gives a marvellous performance throughout  - taciturn, obdurate and one feels, just below the threshold of breakdown as he silently struggles to make sense of his commitment to a hollow system.  Lew Temple is equally good as the cowardly enabler of that system, one on which he depends to validate his tough guy self-image.

Like, another late entrant, 2014’s Camp X Ray, A Fighting Season is a powerful look behind the lines of war.

 

 

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