Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mischa Webley's THE KILL HOLE lands in theaters briefly, prior to an April DVDebut

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has followed soldiers' wartime experiences undoubtedly since history's original war (whatever that was), though it has been called, over the centuries, many other names. While PTSD is simply the latest in a long line of monikers (neurasthenia, shell shock), there can be no surprise that this condition should affect soldiers so drastically, as war brings out the worst in human behavior. The guilt/fear that follows this behavior should be as expected as it is difficult to deal with, and that is the subject of the interesting and worthwhile, though not always successful, new film, THE KILL HOLE, from first-time full-length filmmaker Mischa Webley.

"I fought my fucking ass off for them, and they don't give a shit about me!" an ex-soldier cries early on, and this about sums up the situation of the United States' concern for its veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it was, perhaps to a lesser extent, of those who fought earlier in Vietnam. As screenwriter and director, Mr. Webley (shown at left), I think, understands this situation pretty well and he has communicated it to his two actors who play the leads in his film so that their performances, both quite good, carry us through some of the more difficult dialog and especially the voice-over narration that, from time to time, might sound pretentious if it also did not seem to be coming from such a troubled, off-kilter place.

Of course, these words sounds a little crazy and self-justifying: if the guys who speak and think them were more clear-headed and on top of things, they might by now be teaching philosophy at Yale. Instead they are reliving the past, most of it quite nasty. One of them, Lt. Drake (Chadwick Boseman, above) led a platoon in which the massacre of a family occurred, concluding with the burning alive of a certain "wanted" man on order from "superiors."

An observer of all this (himself unobserved by the murdering platoon) who has come with his own murderous agenda, Sgt. Carter (Tory Kittles) witnessed the killing is now dedicated to killing off those "superiors." He has murdered one of them already, and before he can kill more, Drake is hired/semi-kidnapped by the mercenaries who ordered the original killing (these kinds of mercenaries, after all, are responsible for much of the bloodshed, death and torture in both our current wars) and ordered by them to track Carter to his mountain cabin and kill him.

Before and after this "event" and its follow-up, we sit in with Drake in PTSD meetings led by a very good Billy Zane (above) who tries unsuccessfully to bring Drake out of his shell. The lead mercenaries are played by Peter Greene (below) and Ted Rooney (shown at bottom, center). The major problem with the film is its split personality: the melodrama of the sections involving the all-white mercenaries' against the more serious dialog and bond that form between the two black soldiers.

Race is important here, I believe, for the film (as are our wars) is about the users (the powerful) against the used (the powerless). And while there are plenty of white soldiers who've been used as badly as black ones, historically in this country blacks -- particularly black males -- have been on the bottom. The Kill Hole never pushes its view of racism; given the casting, it does not have to.

Carter's mountain cabin is perched atop a hill, giving him (and us) a view of all the surroundings. The snow-capped mountain (above) that we see from his cabin is a glorious sight and acts as a kind of symbol of something pure, beautiful and out of reach. What we're left with at film's end is a stark, mournful look, not just at the fruits of war but at the horror left in the minds and souls of our veterans. Webley and his cast are to be congratulated for taking us there, even if only fitfully.

The Kill Hole (the title comes from a big black hole on the bulletin board in Carter's cabin), from Alternate Endings Studios and running 92 minutes, arrived yesterday on theater screens in limited release across the country. Here in New York City,  it's playing at the MIST Harlem Cinema. Come April 9, it will be available on DVD.

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