In an era where the amnesiac Jason Bourne has taken the reins from stalwart James Bond, it’s no wonder that stories have grown a bit more convoluted; still, when your back’s against the wall, there’s no better man to have at your side – or in your service – than the soldier. While THE VETERAN admirably toys with the timeless themes of service to country, loyalty, and redemption, it never truly rises to the challenge, instead simmering way too long with its ‘potboiler’ terrorist sentiments and carbon-copy heavies who feel the need to map out their villainy in grand speeches. Besides, in the end, nothing shuts up a terrorist quicker than a bullet to the head.
Robert Miller (played by Toby Kebbell) is back home from his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s more than a bit shell-shocked, and finding a new job while being thrust back into a thankless society is an even harder campaign to win. Soon, he’s tapped by a dark government firm (headed by “Gerry”, played by veteran character actor Brian Cox) intent upon waging the War on Terror with private citizens. When his contact Alayna (Adi Bielski) reveals to him that several sleeper cells are secretly bringing weapons into the U.K., Miller realizes he may be the only man with the skills to stop it … but doing so is going to mean uncovering an even greater conspiracy before it’s too late.
For a “race against time” premise, the events of THE VETERAN play out very languid. Far too much time is invested in uncovering precisely what is going on here – the players are all operating from their own hidden agendas, and several of these aren’t genuinely revealed until very late in the picture. I can’t help but wonder if the script might’ve benefitted from another draft or two to tighten up the pace. While the climax brings with it the rewards of the bloody glory – Miller’s various worlds collide almost too predictably with guns a’blazing – I would’ve liked to have cared more about these characters. Had that investment have been made, then the conclusion would’ve had more impact. (Minorly spoilerish, so head to the next paragraph if you must!) As it stands, it all ends most probably where everyone suspected it might (but perhaps hoped it wouldn’t), but kudos to the cast and crew for sticking to their convictions in what may be a real downbeat finish if you didn’t see it coming. War ain’t Hollywood, folks, and it’s good to see that Director Matthew Hope stayed true to that singular vision.
It stands to reason that Kebbell does a solid job here and deserves special mention. As the soldier who’s tried to leave the battle for quieter times, he’s clearly struggling with his re-acclimation into society. The face of every Muslim captures his attention for an uncomfortably long time. He’s prone to periods of studying his hands to see if they’re shaking. It’s easy to tell that he’s become a powder keg – his fuse is lit, and he’s waiting for the right moment to let it all loose – and, when he blows, even he doesn’t want to be around to see it. Circumstances evolve, putting pressure on the right pressure points, and the soldier is left with no other choice but to channel these energies into taking back the streets. It works because Kebbell makes it real, playing it with little pathos as he presses – like the good solider – ever onward.
THE VETERAN isn’t an anti-war picture, or, at least, I don’t believe it intended to be, though I’ll admit it’s hard to draw that distinction with a smart script that mostly focuses the audience’s attention on the veteran himself. Miller never rises up (or falls down) giving any impassioned narrative – ala Sylvester Stallone in FIRST BLOOD’s final scenes – about being damaged as a result of his combat. Instead, it’s all up there on the screen. In fact, THE VETERAN never really comments on the war – there are a few passing discussions about Iraq and Afghanistan, with only one key scene addressing how soldiers were really doing the ‘leg work’ for drug lords who get their products from these third world nations – and, instead, it focuses most of its energies on telling the story of a soldier just too plain tired to hold back his warrior impulses any longer when duty calls.
The film is produced by DMK Productions in cooperation from Inconiq Group, Media One Pro, and Premiere Picture Limited. The disc comes courtesy of Inception Media Group. Photography is solid – colors are muted necessarily due to the presentation of the grim material. I struggled a bit with the sound; accents are thick, and the mix could’ve been handled better to bring out the dialogue, but I’ve noticed this doesn’t get as much attention with some of these smaller releases. There are no special features – only the film’s trailer – which is a bit of a disappointment.
STRONGLY RECOMMENDED. It’s not an awful picture; rather, it’s a picture dealing with some awful circumstances. War is harsh, and the scars each soldier bears can and will last a lifetime. Fighting for one’s homeland only to return home to discover the homeland has been virtually overrun with a (new) clear and present danger will only serve to further aggravate a soldier’s paranoia, but those suspicions are better left to be dealt with on the battlefield, not the home front.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Inception Media Group provided me with a DVD screener for the expressed purposes of writing this review.