One of this year’s most standout performances comes from an indie film that is pretty much under the radar, but you can catch Blood Stripe this weekend at Beverly Hills’ Laemmle Music Hall.
Blood Stripe is an intentionally taut, almost suffocating drama about a Marine (Kate Nowin) with PTSD. Writer-director Remy Auberjonois (Nowlin, who co-wrote the film, is his wife) gives the military vet the moniker of Our Sergeant. By not providing the protagonist with a formal name, Auberjonois may be pointing out that his story is a universal one, but Our Sergeant is also an unapologetically terse woman, so not sharing her name to strangers makes a ton of sense.
After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Our Sergeant returns home to unexcited to see her husband Rusty (This Is Us’ Chris Sullivan), and their relationship is obviously treading on thin ice. More focused on her daily runs and even mowing the lawn during the dead of night, she seems to want nothing to do with Rusty (and the feeling goes both ways), and with no support network around her (her VA Hospital wait time for treatment is 129 days), Sergeant believes she has no options.
After zoning out on a construction job, she spontaneously leaves everything behind to revisit the summer camp of her youth where she befriends a camp employee named Dot (Rusty Schwimmer). Seeming to know Sergeant’s dilemma right off the bat, Dot gives Sergeant temporarily shelter in exchange for on-site work. With her mind understandably fixated on the past, Sergeant needs various activities to keep her focused on the present, and as far as completing a ton of physical activities, she absolutely gets the job done.
The arrival of several church members (Remy’s father, veteran actor Rene Auberjonois, is their leader/preacher) threatens to break Sergeant’s routine, and even though she initially has her eyes set on a fellow thirtysomething (Tom Lipinski, simply dubbed in the film as “the fisherman”), these strangers may add to her sense of alienation and distress. Upon discovering what she believes is a shady operation that’s occurring within her new environment, Our Sergeant’s paranoia spikes up an even higher level.
Kudos goes to Auberjonois and Nowlin for refusing to infuse their script with heavy handed monologues on the ravages of war or a veteran’s struggles with stepping back into their daily routines. We’ve heard these speeches before, and though feel good stories wherein military vets find their happy ending can be a worthwhile watch, most of the time the effect evaporates soon after the film ends.
Auberjonois dramatically cuts the dialogue in the final section of the film, as we dive deeper into Our Sergeant’s head space and sheer sense of desperation. Playing off the seemingly tranquil surroundings of the protagonist also serves as a wonderful counterbalance, and the film’s final shot, as we ponder the journey of the many men and women who sacrifice their lives for a grateful nation, is a stunner.
For more info on the film, check out its official site, and even if you can’t catch it in your local theaters, track it down whenever it hits VOD or streaming services and tell me what you think of the flick (I’ll be mentioning Blood Stripe on the next episode of CinemAddicts as well).
Rating: Four (*****) out of Five (*****) Stars.
***September’s episode of CinemAddicts: