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A captivating, character-driven drama that absolutely deserves to be seen
I had the privilege of seeing this film at 2016 Twin Cities Film Fest. Right from its opening scene when the film's protagonist first touched down on the airport, I was immediately intrigued by her. Known only as Our Sergeant, she just returned home to Minnesota from her military duty. The film didn't specify which country she was placed in, though later she did talk about her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The film isn't political, nor does it point finger about the cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) many soldiers suffer. It's a story about a combat vet who happens to be a female Marine, and the trials and tribulations she goes through in the film.
Despite the dark subject matter, the film is far from somber. It's effortlessly engaging, thanks to Kate Nowlin's immense screen presence. She is tough, powerful yet vulnerable, and Nowlin embodied her character so beautifully. I have to admit I'm not really into war-themed films in general, but I've always been drawn to those that focus on the psychological aspect of the soldiers, i.e. 'The Thin Red Line'. But 'Blood Stripe' captures the brutality of war without actually showing it. It's a mental torture that the 'Sarge' endured, at times she's on the brink of losing it, and it's a truly haunting performance. Director Remy Auberjonois contrasted that mental torment with the striking serenity of Lake Vermilion in Northern Minnesota.
I was truly in awe by Nowlin's extraordinary performance. She also co-wrote the script so she must have spent a lot of time with her character, but it's still quite a feat given that she had no military training prior to taking on this project. I also appreciate the fact that the film utilized all of the supporting cast well, as each had their moment to shine. Chris Sullivan was terrific as Sarge's husband, as was Rusty Schwimmer who played the camp's caretaker where Sarge worked. Tom Lipinski also did a memorable turn as The Fisherman who befriended Sarge. Last but not least, we've got the venerable character actor René Auberjonois as the church elder Art who's the comic relief in the film.
It's so rare to see female soldiers being depicted on the big screen and I think Nowlin's portrayal does them justice. The enigmatic ending lingers long after the opening credits, this film certainly adds the conversation to the topic of PTSD in a compelling way.
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