Review by Sean Boelman
Although there have been a number of films to explore the human impact of war, Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn take a unique approach with their new documentary Father Soldier Son. Both paying respect to those who served and calling attention to the issues of the military system, this is a compelling and emotional watch in many ways.
The movie tells the story of a soldier who, after being wounded in Afghanistan, returns home where he must struggle to adjust to his new life with the help of his family. Although the subject’s story of recovery is certainly very compelling and emotional, the film makes the interesting point that it is not only the person who served, but also their loved ones, who are affected by this type of crisis.
One of the strongest aspects of the movie is its characterization. As the title implies, this is not just a movie about a soldier’s military endeavors — it’s about his life in general. Davis and Einhorn choose to immerse the viewer in the lives of this family by showing the mundanities of their life in addition to their struggles, making their story all the more relatable.
That said, once the film does go for an emotional punch, it hits hard. And unlike most other military-centric movies, this doesn’t feel overwhelmingly jingoistic or artificial in its attempts to milk the audience’s tears. This isn’t an average uplifting tale about someone overcoming the odds — it’s a stark look at the reality of military life.
Even more interesting is what the film has to say about self-fulfilling prophecies. There is an extremely compelling subplot following the protagonist’s son as he faces the dilemma of continuing his education or enlisting in the military. It’s one of the most frustrating yet insightful moments in a movie that is full of thought-provoking discussion.
To tell this story, Davis and Einhorn take a fly-on-the-wall approach, following the family as they go about their lives. At times, it can feel like they are taking advantage of the misfortune of these individuals, but more often it feels like an earnest attempt to depict their plight so that others can learn from the struggle they face.
Since the film does such a good job of immersing the viewer within the story, it flies by, yet feels entirely satisfying. Davis and Einhorn keep it simple, and as a result, they are able to effectively communicate everything they need to say with a runtime of just under an hour and forty minutes.
Father Soldier Son is a riveting documentary with a lot of potential to resonate with audiences. Although it isn’t always an easy movie to watch, it may be surprising just how affecting this story really is.
Father Soldier Son streams on Netflix beginning July 17.