The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Battle Scars

Battle Scars tells two stories concurrently. One is really good, the other incredibly weak. The problem is that the second story continually intrudes upon the first one. Every time the film starts to work up some heat, it switches gears, going into the material that's faulty. The effect isn't fatal, but it is definitely limiting. That's a shame, because the half that works really works.

Zane Holtz plays Luke Stephens, a soldier who was sent home from Afghanistan after his unit got blown up by an IED. Some of his friends died; he suffered a very severe injury. First, Luke visits his drug-dealing brother Nicky (Ryan Eggold), then goes to a strip club. That's where he encounters Michelle (Heather McComb), a waitress who steals his credit card number and orders herself an expensive piece of jewelry. After figuring out what she's done, Luke goes to confront her about it, which unexpectedly leads to them slowly developing a sympathetic relationship.

The strong half of Battle Scars deals with Luke's PTSD. He endures flashbacks to the incident, experiences moodiness and a desire to isolate, and has a fractured relationship with his wife Jules (Amy Davidson). The movie sensitively portrays the effects of PTSD the depression, the anxiety, the continual state of emotional arousal. By far, the most engaging scenes are the ones between Luke and his father (David James Elliott), a fellow former Marine who isn't buying the whole PTSD thing and thinks his son is just weak. They constitute a powerful look at how the diagnosis can be misunderstood by those not afflicted with it.

Then there's the other half. Michelle, it turns out, has also ripped off the strip club's owner, a sociopath named Rifka (Fairuza Balk). She tries to hunt her employee down, leaving Nicky who peddles his wares to her clientele caught in the middle and more than willing to fight back when she tries to hold him accountable. Aside from the fact that Balk chews the scenery like nobody's business, this half of the story leads to a laughably contrived resolution. Why such material is in Battle Scars is not clear. It adds nothing to Luke's arc. More time spent exploring his relationship with his wife or further developing his connection with Michelle would have been far more gratifying.

Holtz and McComb both give touching performances. The former, in particular, nicely avoids all the cinematic PTSD cliches, opting instead for more subtle characterization. Director Danny Buday (5 Star Day) also deserves credit for bravely depicting the distinct type of injury Luke suffered and how he manages it on a day-to-day basis. (No spoilers here.) The idea that vets often sacrifice heavily is driven home in a meaningful way.

In the end, mileage may vary on Battle Scars. Some viewers may find the Rifka/Nicky story too much of a distraction. Others may feel that Luke's story is strong enough to overcome the stuff that's out of place. Either way, this is a film with flaws and successes in almost equal measure.

( 1/2 out of four)

Battle Scars is unrated, but contains sequences of violence, strong language, and sexual content/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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