Judging by the depiction of Iraq War veterans in the few films that have been bold enough to grapple with the touchy subject matter -- 'Stop Loss,' 'The Lucky Ones' and 'The Messenger,' to name a few -- the answer is a resounding "no."
The most recent movie to meet this hot-button topic head-on is the upcoming 'Armored,' a wham-bam, adrenaline-infused heist flick that also happens to poignantly depict how a decorated Iraq veteran (up-and-comer Columbus Short) reacts to the thankless hand he's dealt -- and the lack of options he's given -- upon his return home. Almost as long as there have been movies, war has provided the ammunition for legions of them, from Charlie Chaplin's silent 'Shoulder Arms' to 'All Quiet on the Western Front' to 'M.A.S.H.' to 'Jarhead' -- and it's not hard to see why. By its very nature, war is cinematic: There's gripping conflict, grand spectacle and moral dilemmas to test the true character of any man or woman. But it's not just what happens in the heat of battle that has interested moviegoers over the decades; it's what happens long after the gunfire has ceased, when veterans return home and begin the difficult process of reassimilation into "normal life."
The veterans of each great war in our nation's history have received a different portrayal on the big screen. Generally, WWI and WWII vets are shown receiving a heroes' welcome upon their return to the United States (see 'Flags of Our Fathers' for a recent example). Meanwhile, Vietnam vets are often depicted as an unwelcome -- and often ignored -- reminder of a war popularly thought to be ill-advised and futile. To be sure, Tom Cruise's paralyzed vet Ron Kovic got very little love in 'Born on the Fourth of July,' and Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan didn't fare much better in 'Forrest Gump.'
With the war in Iraq still raging on -- and no apparent end in sight -- more and more films are leaving the frontlines behind to focus on questions that might not occur to most Americans watching the news every day: What happens to our brave men and women when they return home? Are vets regarded as heroes and given the opportunity to prosper? Or is society giving them the shaft?
While the movies made about Iraq war vets thus far have varied wildly, they do have one thing in common: The soldiers in them are haunted things they've done or seen and, while they are recognized for their valor, society does little to aid them in transitioning back to civilian life. 'Harsh Times' (2006) paints ex-Army Ranger Christian Bale as a man whose experiences in war have caused him to become violent and a bit unhinged. Paul Haggis' 2007 flick 'In the Valley of Elah' tells the story of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who commit an unfathomable atrocity after returning from Iraq. And 'Stop-Loss' (2008) finds Ryan Phillippe's decorated staff seargeant going AWOL when he returns home to be discharged from service only to be ordered back to active duty. Not exactly dream homecomings for any of them.
The most recent movie to meet this hot-button topic head-on is the upcoming 'Armored' (in theaters Dec. 4), a wham-bam, adrenaline-infused heist flick that also happens to depict how a decorated Iraq veteran (up-and-comer Columbus Short) reacts to the thankless hand he's dealt -- and the lack of options he's given -- upon his return home.
When Short's Ty Hackett returns to the States, he's not just grappling with the demons of the atrocities he's witnessed on the battlefield; he's also tasked with caring for a high-school-aged brother with a penchant for cutting class, paying of the gargantuan mortgage on his family's house and holding down a stressful job as an armored truck security guard. And no one will cut him the slightest break. The bank wants to foreclose on his house, social services is bent on putting his brother in foster care, and his kind-eyed boss (Fred Ward) won't give him any overtime, despite commending him for his military service.
Squeezed on all sides, Hackett is offered the chance to make all his problems go away: Join his pals, led by Matt Dillon, in faking a heist of one of the armored trucks and stashing the money. No one gets hurt; they walk away with a cool $42 million. Moral guy that he is, Hackett angrily refuses at first, but reluctantly agrees when the threat of losing his brother becomes too much to bear. But when things go wrong (and, boy, do they) and people start getting hurt, Hackett's moral compass takes over and he does what he does best: defends the innocent.
To be sure, war veterans' difficult readjustment to civilian life is interesting territory to be covered in a heist movie. Of course, the military background does come in handy -- and make for a ton of crowd-pleasing thrills -- when Hackett has to go all Rambo on his suddenly bloodthirsty pals. But there's more depth to the story than that.
'Armored' suggests that when society denies veterans the opportunity (as it so often does) to reap the prosperity for which they so nobly have fought and bled, it can drive them to do bad things ... like, say steal $42 million. But it also asks the question: Is society beholden to go above and beyond to care for its veterans and ensure that they don't flirt with the dark side? Or do veterans always have a choice, no matter how daunting their situation? According to 'Armored,' the answer is ... both.
What do you think?
'Armored' showtimes and tickets