War Games: In Country

by |
04/08/2015 6:21 AM |
Photo courtesy of Bond/360

In Country
Directed by Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara
Opens April 10 at Cinema Village

In Country begins like a teenager’s backyard war movie, with guys in Sharpie’d battle helmets (“Sock It To Me”) stalking the Viet Cong in a forest standing in for jungle. Even before one of them turns to the handheld digital camera to improvise a clichéd monologue about two tours and “no end in sight,” the film has already discovered a cache of raw data on personal and historical trauma and memory, reenactment, catharsis, and the movies, in parallel with more recent counterinsurgency campaigns. Though In Country’s first five minutes are more a teaser than a formal gambit sustained by filmmakers Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara, their documentary about a group of Vietnam War re-enactors in Oregon puts so much into play, perhaps never moreso than when the one actual ‘Nam vet of Company Delta 2/5(R) praises his younger cohorts as “Hollywood quality.”

One weekend warrior, a military gear collector, describes old soldiers sniffing his vintage DEET and flashing back to the rice paddies, and the filmmakers, with itchy Proustian-trigger fingers, cut away frequently to Vietnam newsreel films, and helmet-cam videos taken by re-enactors during active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The jumps from simulacra to source are literal but evocative, especially as veteran re-enactors pick at scars left by battle—and the passage of time itself. One, who fought in his native South Vietnamese army for five years, cries at the familiar sound of raindrops hitting his poncho, telling O’Hara, “I don’t know why you say ‘bad memories.’”

Though the filmmakers struggle to keep up with life changes occurring over production, and with their battlefied coverage, they fit shades of color into In Country’s 80 minutes, via live-action RPG logistics and fourth-wall-breaking, and a battalion as motley as any backlot’s. The memorabilia hound gives a wiki-cribbed scene-setting lecture on the eve of battle (“the peace and love movement wasn’t all that bad”); a Portlandian brewery manager is the unit’s designated fuck-up. The latter’s frank excitement over playing soldier makes an uneasy slant rhyme with the veterans of the Middle East, who return to a sense of camaraderie and purpose otherwise missing from their homefront (and with the film’s closing images of a parade, with parents waving flags and children playing dress-up in fatigues). Ultimately, In Country leaves unanswered the question first posed by John Rambo: “Do we get to win this time?”