Hot Docs 2014 Review: In Country
Over the last few years, a new genre of literary fiction has emerged, that of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and encountering a new war: the war within. Some of these books include Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime by Ben Fountain, The Yellow Bird by Kevin Powers, and Phil Klay’s collection of short stories, Redeployment, along with non-fiction title Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel. However, there has not been a film, aside from perhaps The Hurt Locker, that has captured that feeling of emerging from war, but not truly being able to, (or even wanting to), leave it behind.
This dichotomy may be why In Country is such a change of pace from the typical war movie. Co-directors Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara have captured a group of men that have returned from war, but are without an outlet to release their feelings. These men, (and yes, only men), have taken to the fields of Oregon to recreate the Vietnam War, perhaps to place a certain distance behind more the recent trauma of Afghanistan and Iraq. There are some Vietnam War re-enactors featured that did serve in Vietnam, and fascinatingly, this includes soldiers from both sides. The disposition suggests that there is no way to go back, to relive the past, but yet this form of an outlet allows these men to come to grips with the poverty and death, and release some of the feelings of conflict to better re-acclimatize themselves back into American society.
Attie and O’Hara keep their camera pointed at the men, (and occasionally on the families), but keep off-screen intervention to a minimum. There is no blame game or shaming of the men, and, most importantly, though footage of Vietnam is interspersed throughout, the focus is on the present and future.
There is, however, an enduring image at the end, followed by a credits song, which may reveal the state that In Country will face. These twin crescendos are stirring finalities to exiting the battles.