Bert Bedrosian — LA Times: “Citizen Soldier”
A member of Oklahoma’s Army National Guard in the documentary “Citizen Soldier.” (Gravitas Ventures / Broad Green Pictures)
Viewing itself as a modern day “Band of Brothers,” David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud’s “Citizen Soldier” is an immersive if familiar documentary that takes viewers on a dramatic ride-along with a unit of the Oklahoma Army National Guard during a 2011 tour in Afghanistan.
The tightknit outfit known since World War II as the Thunderbirds, whose members’ regular 9-to-5 jobs range from prison guard to marketing director, get a taste of the front lines when they become part of the state’s largest deployment since the Korean War.
After a somewhat uneventful period of acclimatization, the citizen soldiers soon find themselves in the thick of it, dodging gunfire and navigating dozens of improvised explosive devices planted in the treacherous mountainous terrain; tragically, not always successfully.
Through the incorporation of multiple strategically placed cameras, including helmet cams, the filmmakers, who achieved a similar, grunts-eye-view in 2014’s “The Hornet’s Nest,” create an undeniably palpable experience.
But the inherent drama takes a hit each time the film cuts away to capture recollections of several Guardsmen, who were later brought back together to recount their missions and eulogize two members who did not make it back.
While the intent is obviously to make a more personal connection to the men of the Thunderbirds, that back-and-forth structure has the undesired effect of pulling the viewer out of the intensity.
Even with that compromised effect, “Citizen Soldier” makes for an honorable addition to the densely populated modern war film field.
— — — — -
MPAA rating: R, for language
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica