Friday, 9 September 2011

Film Review: The Veteran

Ex-Para Robert Miller (Kebbel) returns home from Afghanistan to a country which offers very little in the way of opportunity for him. Suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and finding it difficult to adjust to normal life, it appears his military skill set of no use in civvy street. That is until he is put in contact with a shady intelligence officer by an ex-colleague and is thrust onto the real front lines of the War on Terror, the streets of Britain. It's not long before Miller becomes involved in a game of double-crossing and conspiracy.

The Veteran is a reasonable low budget thriller from director Matthew Hope which has a lot of social and political points to make. Foremost it highlights the mistreatment of soldiers who leave the service, often generally ill-prepared to integrate back in with normal society. I once read an interesting statistic that a large majority of the homeless in London are ex-military as a consequence. It is a situation a far-cry from Prime Minister David Lloyd George's famous pledge in 1919 after World War One that he would make Britain a country "fit for heros". As such The Veteran offers a damning indictment on successive governments who have discarded the ex-soldiers they use as pawns in games of foreign policy. And that is the second facet on which The Veteran passes commentary; a cynical, conspiratorial take on British foreign policy as well as its role in the War on Terror and the drug trade.

It's an ambitious if not intriguing effort, however it is weakly executed. Each point the film tries to make feels like it is more standalone rather than existing in synergy with the others. As a result everything's all a little bit of a hodge-podge of theories thrown together with your typical thriller genre cliches. That's not to say they're not interesting, but they are not transferred to film with any clarity or forcefulness. This is unfortunate as by the end some otherwise sound points are lost in a whimper. Consequently the focus shifts to the more personal tale of Miller and how he copes adjusting to civilian life. Kebbel is relatively effective in portraying his trauma and seems genuinely troubled, however he is less convincing in his concern for the female contact, Alayna (Bielski), he is tasked with tracking. While Brian Cox's presence as a Machiavellian Home Office Minister injects a certain gravitas to proceedings, overall The Veteran feels more like a two-part ITV drama.

Its closing sequence is also somewhat absurd when Miller eventually snaps, particularly jarring given an otherwise general phlegmatic tone. Erupting into a cacophonie of rage, Miller wages a personal vendetta with an assault rifle through a South London sink-estate against those who used, beat and betrayed him. Turning into the "real life Call of Duty", as one character calls him, you half expect Miller to stop his rampage, open up a laptop and call for a Predator drone strike. Indeed, it all stretches reality a little too far, further impairing previous good work with a bleak finale which seems a little pretentiously platitudinous. Admittedly there are shades of Taxi Driver in places where parallels with De Niro's Vietnam vet are pretty obvious and while The Veteran does show promise and hints of eminence, it is ultimately flawed.