Cast: Max Martini, Dermot Mulroney, Robert Patrick, Lily Rabe
Director: Max Martini
Being 100% honest, I’m having a very tough time thinking of the score to give this movie. On one hand, it does a great job of establishing an emotional connection to many of the characters and the battles they have to face throughout the film. On the other hand, there were some weird story decisions and there have been better movies made about the subject matter. So where does that leave me? How about I split the difference and say it’s a completely middle-of-the-road movie. It’s not the best movie of its genre, Sgt. Will Gardner does enough right where you can empathize with the characters and recognize that the story is realer than the 98 minute runtime we immerse ourselves in.
The film follows Will Gardner (Martini), a former soldier who has come home with a Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD. As a result, Will has a tough time adjusting to his old life and finds himself getting arrested, homeless, and working odd jobs to survive. To help recover, Will goes on a cross-country trip to repair his damaged relationships and figure out how to move on in his life. One of the interesting aspects of this movie is the development of the lead character by Martini. Will is incredibly soft-spoken and gentle compared to how many people with PTSD are portrayed in media, so I give him credit for doing something different. While not quite deep as the portrayals by Bradley Cooper or Miles Teller in recent years, every soldier responds to trauma differently and it is important to show all of their experiences. His gentle nature throughout most of the film provides a certain level of calmness amongst the chaos of his life. All we want is to see him get out of his hole and find a path that makes him happy in life and Martini does an excellent job of directing himself in the lead role. The one area where the film gets a little goofy is with Will’s love-story subplot. Will meets Mary Anne Mackey (Rabe), a fed-up office employee who decides to quit her job and go on a drive. While she’s on this drive, she runs into Will and thinks he’s Bryan Cranston (yes, this is 100% real) and decides to explore a romantic relationship with him. Not only is this an oddly specific way to introduce these characters to one another, but their story never really goes anywhere. I really wish that time was spent more on the scenes regarding Will’s trauma and the impact it had on his family, as these moments were far more interesting and emotionally investing. The relationship between Will and his Army friend Top (Omari Hardwick) is one of the pure highlights of this movie whenever they have scenes together and I think it is universally accepted that we would’ve liked seeing more of them than the scenes of Will and Mary Anne. Maybe some scenes where we see how the system has failed to provide Will the necessary help he needs would have driven the point home more, but ultimately this film proves its point and does so with powerful performances along the way.
Overall, the people behind this film truly cared about the subject matter, so I give everyone involved in the making of this movie credit for working towards something greater than themselves. That being said, Sgt. Will Gardner does nothing that we haven’t seen done in better movies, but it’s not necessarily bad either. With a subject matter like this, there’s always a chance of making a deeply emotional and captivating movie, and this one is somewhere in the middle. While not the best movie of all time, everyone associated with getting this movie made should be proud of what they’re doing for homeless and wounded veterans, as ultimately long after this film ends, those afflicted will still suffer in silence.
Overall Score: 5/10