Italo war correspondent Monica Maggioni makes the leap from journalism to docu helming with “Ward 54,” a moving but unfocused expose of the way the U.S. Army sidelines soldiers returning from Iraq who exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder. Focusing on a few servicemen and women whose post-battle depression resulted in multiple suicide attempts, Maggioni raises issues that should be fodder in newspaper editorials, but she brings in extraneous material that weakens the docu’s punch. Still, the controversial subject and ready-for-TV running time means smallscreen play is guaranteed.
Sgt. Kristofer Goldsmith is Maggioni’s poster boy, an articulate, sympathetic young man who went to Iraq full of patriotic fervor and returned with severe depression. Knowing the Army doesn’t look kindly on battle-related mental disorders, he kept his suicide attempt from his commander for fear of a dishonorable discharge. An Army Times statistic, that 18 vets commit suicide each day, is chilling, particularly paired with evidence that the Army extends no sympathy to soldiers suffering from depression. Descriptions of the Iraq invasion go off topic and, like the overgeneralized statements of talking-head psychologists, should be axed. Editing is generally strong, unlike questionable music choices.