The strength of director Heather Courtney’s documentary as it follows a group of young, small-town friends on their journey from aimlessness to war is that, in laying out “where soldiers come from,” she adroitly maps out overlapping terrains: the material (brutal economic realities), the intangible (the mindset of her subjects), and how they feed one another. When 20-year-old fledgling artist Dom, unemployed, broke, and with no job prospects, enlists in the National Guard, he talks his group of friends, including 19-year-old self-described “sexy sidekick” Cole, into joining with him. The boys and their friends live in a small Michigan town where shells of factories lie rotting, parents are either unemployed or working multiple shitty jobs, and their youthful worldview is a combination of jadedness and naïveté. Courtney’s camera follows the crew from enlistment to basic-training to days in Afghanistan that swing between banal and terrifying; she builds genuine tension as we watch tanks roll down roads studded with hidden bombs. Much of what’s presented is familiar territory, but it’s the moments that fracture prejudices and expectations that stick with you, such as watching poor, disenfranchised white folk root for Barack Obama in the ’08 presidential election. Or when Dom, sitting in his bunk in Afghanistan, gives such a nuanced, compassionate read of the links between terrorism, poverty, and exploitation that your heart breaks for the boy and the Afghans he’s identifying with.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 7, 2011