A lilting, bittersweet doc sees three 'Nam vets still tunneling through war-traumas in their 70s.
Veteran British documentary filmmaker Michael Grigsby very sadly died prior to the release of We Went To War, the film that was to become his swansong. This intensely melancholic work retraces the steps of Grigsby's own 1970 film, I Was A Solider, in which he interviewed a trio of Texan grunts who had fought in Vietnam.
They went there of their own accord, thinking that they were no better or worse than anyone else in their fair country. Understandably, they also bore the deep psychological and emotional scars of chemical warfare, widespread bloodshed and cultural displacement. It turns out that nearly forty years later, those scars are still gently weeping.
Dennis, David and Lamar spoke of the visceral horrors they had witnessed in Asia, but without the knowledge that these horrors would remain in their nightmares for years, decades to come. Lamar has already passed on, but we hear from his loving family about the problems he experienced which perhaps lead him to an early grave. Though possessing the capacity for great love and affection, he was prone to great bouts of anger, sometimes ordering his family into the garden so he could shoot the dog to stop it from barking.
Yet madness and the psychological rot caused combat by is not the theme of this film. It's more interested in the idea of human endurance and our ability to exist beyond the dark chapters of our lives. Dennis and David may lament the years of pain they have suffered, the sleepless nights, the indiscriminate rages, the broken relationships, but in the end they have seen the worst and they have survived.
Grigsby, alongside his producer and key collaborator Rebekah Tolley, capture the lilting beauty of the spare, sand-blasted Texan landscape with their camera. Their long takes of rolling fields and dirtroads which twist into the horizon paint the Lone Star State as kind of earthly paradise, emphasising how solitude and nature can often act as an important medicine for the psychologically damaged.
They also linger on details such as roadsigns, advertisements or cars, and while these wistful longeurs show the land these men fought for, they thankfully never pass judgement on whether it was all worth it in the end.
A low-key British documentary about post war syndrome in Texas.
Moving, but never manipulative. And beautifully photographed.
A very fine swansong for director Michael Grigsby who sadly died shortly after completing the film.