In case you haven't heard, there's a new documentary in town called "Brothers at War." Unlike the recent spate of anti-American films on the Iraq war, which paint our soldiers as confused, angry, or psychopathic killers (Lions for Lambs, Stop-Loss, In the Valley of Elah, etc.), Brothers at War is a relatively simple story of one brother's quest to understand the motivation behind two of his brothers' decisions to serve in the Army and deploy (repeatedly) to Iraq.
As the oldest of four brothers, Jake Rademacher travels to Iraq to see his brother Isaac, an Army captain. After several weeks there, he returns home somewhat cocky, thinking he now understands his brothers and discovers that his youngest brother Joe still doesn't think he "gets it,"since he only spent a short time over there. So he goes back again, this time embedding with a Marine Corps mobile training team and their Iraqi counterparts. He goes out on numerous missions and patrols with them, and is present when an IED explodes only a few hundred yards away from him, wounding several of the Iraqis. He returns home much more subdued than before, but he has accomplished his goal - he has finally earned the respect of his brothers.
This is no big-budget, Hollywood film; rather, it was shot on a shoestring budget with money raised from a handful of supporters in Decatur, IL (the producer's hometown). The only reason it was able to make the leap to the "big screen" was due to the efforts of Jon Voight & Gary Sinise, both of whom are huge supporters of the military. Voight saw an early screening of the film and called Sinise, telling him "You gotta get in on this project!" Gary signed on as executive producer, and was key in helping getting it released into theatres, albeit on a limited basis.
Oceanside, CA happened to be one of the 25 locations nationwide where the film opened this past weekend, and I was able to convince my father-in-law, Fred, to accompany me. Little did we know that we would have our brush with fame before the evening ended...
We headed out to the 4:45 showing, and made it just in time, with Fred pushing me in my wheelchair. As we rolled inside, we were met by some ladies with Soldiers' Angels, an awesome group whose goal is to help out servicemembers in any way they can. As we stood (or sat) there chatting with them, who should walk in but Jon Voight! Seeing me in my wheelchair, he walked right up and shook my hand. As I rose to stand on my one good leg, he asked me questions about myself as the SA ladies began snapping pictures. When he asked me how I'd been injured, I was quick to point out that it hadn't happened "over there" in Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather was the result of a recent motorcycle accident. I went on to tell him about my 18 years of service in the Marines and my ongoing efforts to finish seminary and become an Army chaplain. He seemed genuinely impressed with my commitment to serve our troops, even if it meant returning to a combat zone without a weapon in order to minister to their needs.
The SA ladies quickly gathered around and began snapping pictures, and at one point Jake Rademacher came over and joined us for the impromptu photo op. My father-in-law didn't waste the opportunity either. While Voight stood munching my popcorn, Fred told him about his idea for a new movie about his favorite Civil War character, Nathan Bedford Forrest. To my surprise(!), Voight appeared interested and even pulled out a small pad of paper to take down the details - even going so far as to ask "So what part would I play?" After thinking about it for a bit, Fred replied that he thought Jon could play the role of Forrest's chaplain, while Forrest himself might be played by Brad Pitt. "I understand you're some relation to him, aren't you?" Fred asked with a straight face, to Jon's wry amusement.
Later, after the movie was over, we had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session with the film's producer, Jake Rademacher himself. He did a great job explaining his motivation in making the film as well as conveying a deep sense of respect for all those who serve in the military.
So if you get a chance, please go see this film - especially if you can make it by next weekend, since box office receipts from the first two weeks are used to determine whether or not a film will receive wider release. This is definitely the type of film that the American public needs to see - not a slick Hollywood production, but a simple glimpse into the lives of our average - yet extraordinary - servicemembers and their families, and the ideals which caused them to put their lives on the line for their country.
Oh, and if you happen to hear about a movie called "Wizard in the Saddle" about the life and times of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the next few years, you'll know where it came from...