Father Soldier Son (4 stars)

Father Soldier Son

Empathetic and unbiased account of an injured soldier's domestic trials

What it is to be a man in the forgotten parts of America comes under sensitive scrutiny in this armed forces-themed documentary. Remaining carefully apolitical about what is nonetheless a disheartening series of events, the film follows platoon sergeant and single dad Brian Eisch after he is severely wounded during an ambush in Afghanistan, and shows the impact this has on the next nine years of family life. Debut feature directors Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn illuminate the military mindset in a film as touching as it is troubling.

It's a rough old ride for Brian and his sons Isaac and Joey; the boys are 12 and 7 when we first meet them in Wautoma, Wisconsin in 2010 and the family's struggles and ability to, often frankly, talk us through them proves very engaging. There's plenty to mull over and relate to beyond the specifics of their circumstances, as the kids feel pressure to live up to their hero father and find other options desperately limited, while Brian contends with low self-worth and identity issues away from active service, and tries to physically get back on track. Despite the near-decade length of the project, the film crew are present during seismic shifts in the family's lives, intimately capturing raw anguish, melancholy and some happier times too.

Although the directors' own voices remain remote, there's plenty of food for thought here, with Davis and Einhorn using one clan's story to prompt wider questions about patriotism, indoctrination, exploitation, toxic masculinity and governmental neglect of both veterans and whole swathes of its citizens. Brian's staunch devotion to the military cause means he directs surprisingly little anger toward an institution that has taken a great deal from him and left him feeling like a burden.

Balancing Brian's journey with those of his sons gives a fascinating insight into the far-reaching impact of military incursions, and highlights the difference between generations in terms of emotional intelligence; Isaac seems less sure his father's sacrifices have been worth it than Brian himself. Perhaps most sadly, we see personalities change, and often for the worse: compare Brian's determination to remain a fun dad at the outset to the despondent, frustrated figure who spends hours playing military video games years later. It's a film that's very alive to pain and the complexity of Brian's character and that, whilst hopeful, doesn't contrive a redemptive arc for him, making for a rather unique take on a controversial career choice.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 17 Jul.

Father Soldier Son

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 39min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Catrin Einhorn, Leslye Davis
  • Cast: Brian Eisch