It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen someone tell a story as passionately as Max Martini does in SGT. Will Gardner. His activism against the mistreatment of war veterans rings sincerely through the writing and direction of his first solo effort as a filmmaker, and he wears his heart on his sleeve as the title character. The film itself is imperfect, but my admiration towards Martini helped me be forgiving.
Reeling from his service in the Iraq War, Will Gardner tries to integrate himself into a society that once felt normal to him. Flashbacks to the war are captured in a cinematic fashion, but when we see that these are linked to Will’s PTSD and his TBI (traumatic brain injury) as he wallows a homeless life, we see that reality is actually very bleak for the fallen vet. This drama is countered with elements of a road movie as Will sets off to change his future and reunite with his son; visiting roadside acquaintances along the way.
While Martini’s movie is well-meaning, it often feels corny when the filmmaker pushes himself too hard to translate Gardner’s emotions to the audience. The same goes for the humour and the romantic sub-plot that’s supposed to add a lighter side to Will’s travels. These blemishes make the film appear strained when, in fact, the film doesn’t have to try hard to be authentic. Despite being too long, the conversations that make up most of the runtime are genuine and show a distinct natural connection these strangers have with each other. It’s hard to pin down why these exchanges work. Blame it either on Martini’s empathetic screenwriting or the film’s well-cast ensemble (which includes memorable turns from Robert Patrick, Omari Hardwick, and Gary Sinise).
Your eyes will well up just as often as they’ll roll.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie