Mending the Line is an emotional film that invites viewers to explore the psychology of being an American war veteran.
The film, directed by Joshua Caldwell, provides a surprisingly realistic glimpse into the mental and emotional trauma of warfare. The opening scenes of the film establish a great deal of credibility by utilizing actual military vehicles and aircraft instead of CGI ones. Doing so effectively sets the tone of authenticity for the rest of the movie. That commitment to authenticity helps the movie bear a striking resemblance in function to Tim O’Brien’s celebrated novel, The Things They Carried. Both projects contend that the American soldier, the Marine specifically, is different from any other soldier in the world for reasons that might not be obvious.
Ostensibly, the American soldier represents the embodiment of military strength, competence, and resiliency better than any soldier in the world. The largest economy on the planet provides the American soldier with the best equipment money can buy (in theory). The professionalism demanded by the Department of Defense makes systematic training based on proven doctrine a top priority. And an innate sense of patriotism in American recruits blends of all that together to create a fighting force eagerly and capably ready to defend freedom all over the world.
However, books like The Things They Carried and movies like Mending the Line reveal a dark consequence of that success that is uniquely American and unnecessarily tragic. The film brilliantly presents and navigates the quandary of existing in a position of exaltation while feeling unworthy of that position. Think survivor’s guilt and PTSD. America admirably treats its soldiers like heroes, but, speaking as a veteran, that comparison is not always welcome because of the effects of war psychosis. Ike Fletcher, played by Brian Cox, gives a profound Shakespearean monologue near the end of the movie that deftly expounds upon this idea. The film makes it clear that no amount of training or indoctrination can prepare a soldier to effectively cope with the death, destruction, and sacrifice that comes with being a good soldier.
Caldwell and the film’s producers deserve a great deal of credit for offering a project that attempts to temper the hypermasculine stoicism associated with military service. It is far less reasonable to bottle up one’s emotions about a painful war experience than it is to earnestly work through it. However, this tactic of avoidance has been the status quo for far too long. Solter, played by Sinqua Walls, does a decent job of representing that “noble” stoicism that the film is trying to make obsolete by being vulnerable to his demons and (eventually) buying into his treatment.
And convincing veterans to buy into such treatment is the real conundrum the movie tries to solve. For some (most) soldiers, going to war and defending their country will be the most important and relevant thing they will ever do in their lives. It will represent an unbelievable high for them. Unfortunately, for some, it will provide the segue for unbelievable lows. Limbs will be lost. Friends will be lost. Sanity will be lost. Losing the ability to be a hero, actually be a hero and not just be called one, is devasting to the psyche of an American soldier. Mending the Line provides a story that suggests that there are people that care enough to ameliorate the pain that comes along with that devastation.
That is what makes Mending the Line a really good movie. The only thing that holds the film back from being a great movie is the acting. Lucy, played by Perry Mattfeld, feels superfluous at times. The same can be said for Dr. Burke (Patricia Heaton). Sinqua Walls is good, but not great. However, Brian Cox does an excellent job of carrying the film on his back like a proverbial rucksack. Those slights aside, the cinematography of the film is great. The camera work makes the wide-open spaces and rivers of Montana look like a wonderland. The fishing scenes are majestic and the technical sound, whether it be a gun fight or a fly cast, is immersive. It is a well-executed film, overall.
Ultimately, the story is so compelling that viewers will appreciate the intention of the movie above all else and learn something about the veteran experience by the end of it.
Mending the Line is currently running the film festival circuit.