We Went to War Movie Review

This follow-up documentary is so low-key that some audiences might miss its significance, but what it has to say is staggeringly important. And by using such a pure form of filmmaking, recently deceased director Grigsby finds new insight into the issue of returning war veterans. What sets this film apart is that it returns to the three soldiers at the centre of 1970's landmark ITV doc I Was a Soldier, the first film to follow veterans returning from Vietnam.

That earlier film centred on three young men: David, Dennis and Lamar. Back in their rural Texas ranching town, they tried to pick up their lives where they left off. Only of course, they had changed profoundly. This film intercuts clips of the young men in 1970 with new interviews 40 years later. David still feels cut off from his previous life, although he relies on his friends to help "push the hurt away". Dennis says it took 20 years to stop having nightmares, and he rarely speaks of his experiences with his large family. And Lamar died in 2002 at age 55 of cancer brought on by exposure to Agent Orange. His widow and daughter speak about how he drank to numb his pain, even though alcohol made his flashbacks even worse.

But interviews are only a small part of the film, as much of the screen time just watches how these men live. Mixing clips from the 1970 film alongside new images and home movies, it's fascinating to see that many aspects of life are unchanged, although the town's family businesses are almost all boarded up now. And it's not just Lamar's family that felt the effects of Agent Orange. Much more interesting, and largely unprecedented on film, is the way Grigsby quietly captures the long-term impact of combat duty in these men's faces.

For a bit of contrast, Dennis sits down to talk with two young soldiers who are back from serving in Iraq and have almost the same kinds of difficulties with their homecomings as he had. Since none of them were physically injured, they have been treated as if everything about them is exactly as it was before. But it clearly isn't. And with years of hindsight, both David and Dennis now admit that the Vietnam war was both endless and useless. As David notes, war is always about money, but the regular people pay for it: victims, surviving soldiers, their family and friends. 

Rich Cline

Cast & Crew

Director : Michael Grigsby

Producer : Rebekah Tolley

Comments

We Went to War Rating

" Essential "

Rating: PG, 2013

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