War movies are a given in Hollywood. There are the heroic films, the sacrifices, the blood shed, etc. Rarely do any of them focus on the personal sacrifices and choices the men and women of the military make. Fort Bliss gives us a unique take, that of a women’s, rather than the usual testosterone-fueled films about the military. Director Claudia Myers takes us through the difficult decisions faced with serving and does so with extreme thoughtfulness and from a fantastic female perspective.

Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) is a Staff Sergeant in the military. She’s just returning home after a 15-month tour in Afghanistan and is excited to finally be seeing her 5-year-old son Paul (Oakes Fegley) after so long. Maggie is completely deterred and disappointed when she finds out that Paul barely remembers her and would much rather be living with his dad Richard (Ron Livingston) and Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui), his new step mother.

Maggie finds solace in the local mechanic Luis (Manolo Cardova), but as she tries to settle into her new civilian life, Maggie finds it exceptionally difficult adjusting to her new surroundings and living the “normal” life. Before coming back, she decides to reenlist, and must then face the consequences of her decision when she’s again ordered to go back to Afghanistan for another tour of duty. She risks losing her son for good, but still wants to go back to a life and job she’s good and comfortable with.

Myers paces her movie in a thought-provoking way. You can easily sympathize with Maggie and simultaneously wonder at the choices she’s made. It’s an intriguing take given the fact that she’s a woman and Maggie herself asks a fantastic question: why is it when a man travels for work, he’s doing it for the benefit of his family, but when a woman does the same, she’s a bad mother?

And it isn’t just the gender roles at work here. It’s the idea and argument of sacrifice. What are you sacrificing and gaining in return? Is the sacrifice worth it? Does it make one a bad parent to float in and out of a child’s life while at the same time doing something she feels is noble? Yeah, Fort Bliss is definitely not a movie just there for your entertainment. It’s a film that will definitely leave your brain cells working and is sure to hit home for some people, perhaps especially those who serve.

Michelle Monaghan gives a good performance as Maggie. Her love for her son, her impatience at living her new life and acclimating herself back into Paul’s is palpable and sometimes hard to watch. She is able to carry the film well and fills all the facets of her role very well. Ron Livingston does a good enough job being the trying father and pissed-off ex to Monaghan’s definitely more stoic character. Manolo Cardova provides a good rod of support as the patient listener and someone who provides more to Maggie than anyone else around her.

Fort Bliss isn’t a squeaky clean watch. It deals with a lot of tough topics that Myers does a decent job balancing. Sometimes we’ll get scenes that are out of order, but they’re never forgotten and are revisited to complete the picture and better understand Maggie’s thought process. Overall, Myers gives us a thoughtful, well-done, and original point of view on a topic that’s not often visited, with a great female perspective and fantastic performances.

Release Date: September 19, 2014 | Director and Screenwriter: Claudia Myers | Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Ron Livingston, Manolo Cardova, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Pablo Schreiber, John Savage, Dash Mihok, Oakes Fegley | Genre: Drama | MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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