It figures that Michelle Monaghan, one of too many underutilized actresses usually relegated to playing the hero’s wife, would have to go shoestring in order to find a role that allows her to display the range of her talents.
She’s at her best as Army medic/staff sergeant Maggie Swann in writer-director Claudia Myers’s Fort Bliss, a returning-soldier drama that answers the annoyingly ubiquitous “Can women have it all?” question with an exasperated “no.”
After a 15-month deployment, Maggie returns home to a young son who hardly remembers her. Comfortable living with his dad (Ron Livingston) and soon-to-be stepmother (Emmanuelle Chriqui), he’d much prefer to keep things as they are than honor his parents’ agreement to have him go home with his mother. Maggie is instantly resentful of her son’s surrogate mother and what time spent halfway across the world has done to her own maternal bonds; the unhappy intermingling of these endeavors now accounts for much of her daily life.
“If you wanted to take care of him,” Maggie’s ex tells her, “you wouldn’t have stayed in the Army.” Later, she’ll tell the commanding officer who wants to send her back to Afghanistan that “I love my son and I love my country and I don’t think I should have to choose between them.” A simple wish, yet also an apparently impossible one, that Monaghan expresses beautifully.