Oct 3, 2010

LFF 2010 Review: In Our Name

IN OUR NAME
DIR: Brian Welsh
CAST: Joanne Froggatt, Mel Raido,
Chloe Jayne Wilkinson


No war has been so extensively discussed in cinema while it has been happening as the current conflict in Iraq. However, Brian Welsh’s confident debut takes on the subject from a different angle, depicting war only briefly and elliptically, and instead focusing on the trauma of trying to return from war, and readjust to a normal life.

The central character is Suzy (Froggatt), a female gunner in her late twenties, returning home to her fellow soldier husband Mark (Raido) and their nine-year-old daughter Cass (Wilkinson). Suzy has trouble settling in; she won’t let her husband touch her, dreams about a horrible event from Iraq and becomes paranoid about her family’s safety. It soon becomes clear that, despite outwardly coping better, Mark has also been affected by his experiences, and things threaten to culminate in violence.

It has been a theme discussed quite frequently of late, the lack of diagnosis and care for British veterans who return from war without wounds, but possibly mentally ill, and IN OUR NAME brings these cases to the fore. For the most part Welsh, his cast and crew manage to make their issues heard while wrapping them up in an engaging story that doesn’t preach. For its first hour this is largely a subtle and restrained film, dealing with the way that especially Suzy’s trauma and paranoia begin to affect every aspect of her life. Welsh finds echoes of war in his film’s Newcastle setting, with derelict buildings seeming eerily reminiscent of the bombed out streets of Baghdad and fireworks echoing the sound of gunfire. The use of sound is especially good here, it’s never at the forefront, but the soundtrack (suggesting that Suzy might be having auditory hallucinations) really brings home what Suzy is feeling, and where those feelings are coming from, without battering you over the head with the point. Kudos is also due to cinematographer Sam Care, whose images are beautiful without feeling overly designed and immediate without succumbing to the hideous shakycam fad afflicting so much low budget cinema.

However, what really anchors the film is the outstanding central performance of Joanne Froggatt. I’m surprised that this is her first major film role, both because she’s been a recognisable face on British TV for years and because of the assurance of her work here. Physically Froggatt is slight, delicate even, but right from the off she’s convincing as a soldier. What’s great though is the way she portrays Suzy’s growing discomfort at home, the way she makes it clear that her steely exterior is a mask, and the way she gradually, credibly, lets it slip. Even when the film threatens to go off the rails, with a third act that is less credible than what has gone before, the strength of Froggatt’s performance keeps you engaged. One especially good scene has Suzy talking to a class of small children about her experiences in Iraq, and breaking down as she relates the worst thing she saw in unflinching and inappropriate detail. She’s so fragile in that scene that you want to be able to reach in and comfort her, it’s the highlight of a very strong performance.

Unfortunately, Mel Raido’s performance as Mark is less consistent. It’s perhaps partly the writing; Mark is a character of extremes; extreme love for his wife, extreme devotion to the army and sometimes extreme violence. In a film that is overwhelmingly grounded and subtle, especially in its performances, Raido’s sometimes overblown work rang false to me in several scenes, especially as Mark went further off the deep end. However, in his scenes with Froggatt they build a convincing, if dysfunctional, relationship.

I didn’t entirely buy the film’s third act (nor really the logic of it, if Suzy is obsessed with keeping her daughter safe how does what she does help?) But even with that said, IN OUR NAME is a powerful and serious piece of work and it articulates an important message well. It has bumpy moments, and certainly would benefit from making the Mark character just a little less extreme, but this is a promising debut from Brian Welsh, and a film that, when it opens in November is certain to get people talking about him, about Joanne Froggatt and, perhaps most importantly, about how we care for returning soldiers.

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