Jerry G. Angelo wears many hats in American Warfighter. Not only did he direct the film and write the original screenplay, but he also performs as Rusty “Wolfman” Wittenburg, a Navy SEAL haunted by his experiences of battle. I wish I could say that Angelo’s efforts have resulted in an impressive film, but the truth is that American Warfighter isn’t just lackluster, it’s downright bad.
The core concept, a soldier dealing with the psychological repercussions of his job, isn’t a very original one, but it could be taken to interesting and thoughtful places. Unfortunately, any narrative potential that American Warfighter may have had is buried underneath a landslide of nonsensical plot, poor pacing, and uncomfortable dialogue. The majority of the first two thirds of the story is set in Rusty’s hometown and show his relationships with his family, friends, and fellow soldiers. Besides Rusty’s psychological distress, there is no clear conflict. Not only does the film never give the audience any opportunity to connect with the characters or get to know them (instead they exist as stereotypes straight out of some idealized version of “blue-collar America”), the plot itself just doesn’t make sense. About forty-five minutes in, a clumsy plot about a mission to infiltrate a terrorist hideout begins to take shape but it bears little connection to the thin whips of a story we have already been shown. From this point forward, the transitions between Rusty’s visions and his real experiences are sloppy in their execution and the pseudo-spiritual twist at the end of the film doesn’t fit with the rest of the is-it-real-or-is-it-a-dream narrative.
The relationship between Rusty and his daughter, Olivia (Victoria Clare), is the closest thing this story has to a heart, but Angelo’s body language in these scenes is stiff and awkward. That would be fine if it were meant to reflect something deeper about a strained father-daughter relationship – but nothing in the dialogue or plot indicates that this is the case. I’m sure that Clare is a talented young actress with a bright future, but these father-daughter scenes were so uncomfortable that it became difficult to keep watching.
Frankly, I found this film to be mildly insulting in its estimation of its audience’s intelligence and taste. American Warfighter gives a strong impression of pandering to patriotism and religious belief from the first voice-over describing the bonds that form between soldiers in combat to the opening title card with a quote from Shannon L. Alder (an author of inspirational Christian self-help and pop-psychology books). It’s a classic case of “show, don’t tell”, but there really doesn’t seem to be that much to show in the first place. A character having a family will never be enough on its own for me to connect with that character and care about their story. I will also not root for character to succeed simply because they are wearing the military uniform of a particular country.
A good movie should have at least two ingredients: characters with clear motivations and goals, and a story that is worth-telling. American Warfighter doesn’t have either one.
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