Thursday, May 12, 2022

Foxhole, 5 Soldiers, 3 Wars

The hardware and uniforms change, but the fog of war remains. This film also suggests the young people asks to fight wars are in many ways quite similar—identical in fact. The same cast plays out life-and-death encounters from the Civil War, WWI and Iraq Wars during Jack Fessenden’s Foxhole, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Jackson is a Buffalo Soldier who basically crashed a small Union company’s foxhole, after a Confederate officer wounded him, perhaps mortally. Conrad and old grizzled Wilson believe some of the men should carry him to the distant field hospital, but Clark (presumably hailing from border state hill country) argues Jackson would probably die on the journey and the medics maybe wouldn’t take him anyway.

There is a similar ethical dilemma for the company when then film advances to WWI. They have captured a German soldier in their trench at an inconvenient time, so their sergeant wants to kill him and be done with it. Again, Wilson objects and so does Jackson, a soldier from a black regiment, who is somewhat more readily accepted by the white doughboys.

Easily, the best of the three stories is the conclusion in Iraq—but at least a country mile. By now, Jackson is the leader of the squad. There is no internal dissension within the group and they will face no ethical dilemmas. Instead, they will merely try to survive, without leaving any men behind (including Gale, a new addition to the platoon), when they are separated from their convoy and ambushed by insurgents with an RPG launcher.

Of the three installments, the dialogue of the Iraq section sounds the most like the military talk I’ve heard (from family). It also forgoes the anti-war moralizing, instead portraying the courage and camaraderie of the U.S. military. It actually makes
Foxhole more effective as anti-war critique, because it shows two sides to the combat experience (and the dangers and difficulties they entail), while inviting sympathy for the men and women in uniform.

It is also the tensest and most skillfully executed. In this case, the definition of foxhole is expanded to include the Humvee the soldiers are dug into. Fessenden (son of Larry, on-board as a producer) uses the blinding sand to narrow the audience’s field of vision, creating an uneasy feeling that a fatal shot could come from anywhere, at any time.

James Le Gros is terrific as the grizzled Wilson in all three wars. Similarly, Motell Gyn Foster is quite strong as Jackson, especially during the Iraq story arc. Andi Matichak also quickly makes an impact as Gale, the driver. The interplay and banter between the Iraq ensemble really hooks the audience, which makes what follows so intense.

Foxhole hits free streaming, you might even consider skipping ahead to the Iraq story, because it really is that much better. It has a sense of urgency, along with the grit and the sand. On the other hand, the period stylization to the WWI segment makes it too distant to emotionally engage with. The film is uneven, but the parts that work deserve a lot of praise. Recommended for streaming (and maybe fast-forwarding), Foxhole opens tomorrow (5/13), in New York, at the IFC Center.