Movie Review: “Fort Bliss” Is Abundant In Superb Performances


Review by James McDonald

After returning home from an extended tour in Afghanistan, a decorated U.S. Army medic and single mother struggles to rebuild her relationship with her young son.

“Fort Bliss” tells the story of Army medic Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) who returns to the U.S. after an extended deployment in Afghanistan. When she arrives home, her five year-old son Paul (Oakes Fegley) vaguely remembers her and her ex-husband Richard (Ron Livingston) is engaged to another woman, Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui) who is pregnant. Because of their prior custody agreement, Paul must stay with Maggie on base during the week when she is home where she tries to reconnect with him. What “Fort Bliss” successfully accomplishes, is to take one character and show how her sole entity affects everyone around her, both at home and at work.

Maggie has difficulty opening up to those near and dear to her but has no trouble putting her own life in harm’s way to help an injured comrade in the midst of battle. The frustration she feels in trying to reconnect with Paul is, at times, almost unbearable and because it seems to be taking forever and the fact that he’d much rather be with Alma, she turns to drink to help ease the pain. Along the way, she meets car mechanic Luis (Manolo Cardona), a Mexican immigrant who works hard so that he can save enough money to bring the remainder of his family across the border. He is a simple man but one that Maggie is instantly attracted to, physically and emotionally.

Maggie re-enlists and with no plans of deploying any time soon, she offers to stay on base as lead medic until the unit can locate a suitable full-time replacement. She is told the job could take anywhere from three to six months but no sooner has she started to resuscitate her relationship with Paul that she is informed her unit will be re-deployed back to Afghanistan pretty quickly. The film captures, in great detail, the pain that people in the military feel when they come back home. While initially it feels great to be surrounded by family and friends, deep down, they know they are at their best when everything around them is at its worst.

This could have easily turned into an overly dramatic and clichéd movie-of-the-week but thanks to some impassioned performances by Michelle Monaghan and Ron Livingston and deft direction by Claudia Myers, the film executes the many detrimental stories with great clarity. Oakes Fegley who plays Maggie’s son Paul, gives one of the best child performances I’ve seen in some time. He never once comes across as an ‘actor’, instead, he is natural, challenging, brave and very childlike. The movie is an absolute triumph and it’s during the quiet moments where it truly soars.

Ms. Monaghan is a very accomplished actor who has played second fiddle to more famous names like Robert Downey Jr. in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, Matt Damon in “The Bourne Supremacy” and Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible III”. Here though, she plays the lead role with tenacity, buoyancy and courage. Through a simple glance or gesture, she finds depth and scope where a lesser actor might have regressed into caricature. She truly shines and it’s about time that Hollywood stood up and took notice. “Fort Bliss” is a beautifully made film which honors its subject and acknowledges the ramifications of accountability and obligation and the definition of absolute truth.

In theaters and VOD Friday, September 19th. Available on DVD Tuesday, October 14th

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James McDonald
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