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


Echoes of War

Be sure you know and remember the name Maika Monroe. After attention-getting roles in Labor Day and The Guest, the actress (who could easily pass as a young Gwen Stefani) landed her breakout role in the recent It Follows, giving one of the best performances by anyone so far this year. Her skill is emphasizing subtleties in emotion and behavior. It's an approach that makes all her characters feel three-dimensional, no matter how much screen time they receive. Monroe now delivers a strong supporting turn in Echoes of War, and the film works in large part because she captures the high stakes faced by the young woman she portrays.

Set in post-Civil War Texas, the movie stars James Badge Dale as Wade, a soldier dealing with some traumatic aftereffects of fighting for the Confederacy. With nowhere else to go, he shows up at the home of Seamus Riley (Ethan Embry), his late sister's husband, asking to stay. Seamus somewhat hesitantly agrees. His children, daughter Abigail (Monroe) and son Samuel (Owen Teague), are happy to have Wade around; he's a link to their mother. Food is scarce following the war, and Seamus provides for everyone by using his expert trapping skills. The animals he catches are eaten, while the pelts are sold for money. The family's neighbor, a hateful cattle rancher named Randolph McCluskey (William Forsythe), routinely has his sons steal from the Rileys' traps. Wade, aghast that Seamus hasn't had the courage to stand up to the guy, decides to intervene, which increases hostilities between the two clans. What he doesn't initially realize is that Abigail is having a secret relationship with one of McCluskey's sons, Marcus (Rhys Wakefield).

Echoes of War looks at a lot of issues related to conflict, such as how one determines the need to fight, and when sacrifice is necessary to maintain some semblance of peace. Seamus is stuck in a bad situation. McCluskey is stealing from him, but confronting his neighbor would only bring out the man's vengeful side. So he just accepts it. The bad situation works for everyone: McCluskey gets benefits he didn't work for, Seamus gets to live in quiet. Then Wade comes in and upsets it all, bringing his own perspective on the problem and trying to make his brother-in-law adapt to his line of thinking. The film does an interesting thing. At first, it seems as though Wade is righteously defending his family. As the story progresses, though, you start to wonder if he's playing out some kind of war-related trauma, wherein (unlike Seamus) he thinks the only way to “win” is to fight. These kinds of themes give the movie resonance because they apply to any kind of conflict.

Directed by Kane Senes, Echoes of War is a fairly low-key, deliberately introspective movie. And yes, at times it's a little too slowly paced. There's also no “wow” filmmaking here; it's all very workman-like. However, the basic story and the performances carry it. James Badge Dale is excellent as Wade, gradually blurring the line between his character's noble intentions and his more selfish ones. Ethan Embry, typically cast in comedic roles, does fine dramatic work as the laconic Seamus. Embry allows Seamus's facial expressions and body language to convey the things the character thinks but cannot bring himself to say. As McCluskey, William Forsythe once again proves himself adept at playing powerful, intimidating, fearsome men.

And then there's Maika Monroe. The actress convincingly captures the way Abigail's love for Marcus mixes with her fear of what will happen if their romance is discovered by either of their fathers. You don't have to be a fortune teller to guess that the affair becomes the spark that ignites the explosion between the Rileys and the McCluskeys. Even so, Monroe gives Echoes of War an important emotional balance. Abigail represents the innocence that's lost in combat, as well as the collateral damage it incurs. Because that feels so real to us, we become invested in what happens to these people.

Echoes of War may not be the most dazzling movie of its kind ever made, but the solid acting and engaging ideas make it worth seeing. And Maika Monroe? I can't wait to see where her career takes her.

( out of four)

Note: Echoes of War opens in theaters and on VOD May 15.

Echoes of War is rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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