Military life can be experienced at a safe distance in "Army of One," a riveting and timely new docu for which Canuck picmakers were given generous access to U.S. military bases and recruiting stations. Pic won the top Canadian feature prize at the recent Top Docs festival in Toronto, and is heading into limited release before hitting the U.S.

Military life can be experienced at a safe distance in “Army of One,” a riveting and timely new docu for which Canuck picmakers were given generous access to U.S. military bases and recruiting stations. Pic won the top Canadian feature prize at the recent Top Docs festival in Toronto, and is heading into limited Northland release before hitting beachheads in the U.S. Neutral tone of verite production assures acceptance in regions both red and blue.

Helmer Sarah Goodman, a recent Concordia graduate who previously made award-winning shorts, here follows three lost-soul post-adolescents wandering into the U.S. Army from very different walks of life. The youngsters all have a vague urge to serve their country and find themselves at the same time, or at least put a stop to whatever they’re currently doing.

If the most typical recruit is Nelson Reyes, a Puerto Rican kid from the South Bronx who mainly wants to learn some skills and wear a sharp uniform, the most unusual is Thaddeus Ressler, a Chicago stockbroker who reacted viscerally to the 9/11 attacks, making him want to quit his career and start over in a capacity that would allow him to “make somebody pay.” Sara Miller, from North Carolina, wonders what to do with her degree in dance, and how to live life in general.

As Goodman follows this trio from boot camp to base and back home over the course of more than two years, there are ultimately more questions raised than resolved; it would be nice to know a little bit about why Sarah’s gay-seeming dad seems to disapprove of her gay-seeming lifestyle, but viewers are entirely dependent on appearances in this non-narrated tale.

What’s clear is that all three subjects have daddy issues. Thad, the most thoroughly disillusioned, comes across as highly skeptical of his liberal, toupee-sporting papa’s half-hearted encouragement to stick to “the noble thing” he’s doing by staying in the Army. That’s even starker when Thad is shown getting drunk with his Army buddies and they start whipping each other in a homoerotic frenzy.

Since lensing ended last fall, much has happened to the participants (each gets caught up in the machinery knowing nothing whatsoever about Iraq, even after the operation starts) and a brief update will be appended for Canadian showings. Updated footage will be added in time for any Stateside deployment. It’s testimony to this “Army’s” raw power that one is left wanting more.

Army of One

Canada

Production

A Fovea Prods. (Montreal)/Red Storm Prods. (Vancouver) production, in association with CBC and BBC, with the financial participation of CTF, LFP, EIP, IFC, SBS Australia, Canadian Tax Credit program. (International sales, Red Storm Prods., Vancouver.) Produced by Erik Paulsson, Arlene Ami, Sarah Goodman. Directed, written by Sarah Goodman.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Andy Bowley; editor, Caroline Christie; music, Mark Stewart, Paul Watson; sound (Dolby), Alsion Clarke, Daniel Pellerin; associate producer, Anneli Ekborn. Reviewed at the Pacific Cinematheque, June 1, 2004. (In Top Docs Film Festival, Toronto.) Running time: 70 MIN.

With

Thaddeus Ressler, Sara Miller and Nelson Reyes.
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