The Veteran (2011)
Director: Matthew Hope.
Writer: Matthew Hope, Robert Henry Craft, Adam Tysoe.
Cast: Toby Kebell, Brian Cox, Tony Curran, Adi Bielski.
A soldier returning from Afghanistan finds that the fight isn’t overseas, but in his very own council state.
Critique (mild spoilers):
Where to start with this film? First of all, ignore the reviews saying that the film is split in two plots and never ties them. Yes, there are two different plot threads, but they are quite cleverly intertwined and this is a very subtle trick that Matthew Hope pulls quite well.
Also, ignore the poster. It looks like your run of the mill shoot-a-thon, but it’s more of leisurely paced drama, with a few stake-out scenes (well paced), a few twists (some obvious, others genuinely good) and a great performance by Toby Kebell as the main character, Miller, who suffers from PTSD after his unit got in a spot of trouble in Afghanistan.
So, plot…Miller comes back to his council state in London, finding it very hard to be back in a civilised world. Slowly but surely, he realises that the war he left might be happening back home too, even if not as overtly obvious. A local drug lord offers him (or threatens) him into training his lackeys. He rejects the invitation and his car is vandalised.
Another member from his squad called Chris (Tony Curran – looking like a very hungry Chris Eccleston) introduces Miller to some government black ops doing intel in the United Kingdom. This intelligence squad has a liaison who may or may not be from the CIA (Brian Cox). Miller works his military training to uncover a few plots, but is kind enough to give Chris some of the credit.
As the film progresses, the two threads start to blend together. Hypothesis about the war in Afghanistan start becoming realities and the ties to the drug problem in Miller’s council state becomes more evident. Miller’s limited choices become more and more narrow until he decides to do what he knows best.
There are three stand-out sequences in The Veteran that pay homage to classic 70s gritty British films while still having some freshness to them. First of all is the long stake out Miller and Chris do, with little to no music. It’s well shot, well paced and there’s a tense moment towards the end. The second scene it’s the final shootout in the Council State. It’s short, chaotic (as any real shootout is) and there’s no music to lead you into a sense of feeling: it’s all in the action and the carnage (not too graphic, though, some of it implied – classy), leading to the point the director makes (won’t spoil it).
The third scene that really stayed with me and probably was my fave has no dialogue, has no music and might fly over a few people’s heads. Describing it doesn’t make justice to it, but here it goes: Miller goes to the roof of his council state, with the night sky of London looking with a reddish hue that any modern megacity gets. Slowly but surely, the frantic radio conversations from his time in Afghanistan bleed through. We are never shown any action nor flashbacks, it’s all about the sound immersion, the flashes of the city of London and Tony Kebbell’s pained expression.
The film is very low key, made with a very small budget (but used very wisely) and the lack of soundtrack in quite a few scenes (mainly the final, brutal shootout) makes them more poignant. It’s not a perfect film by no means, it will not revolutionise the industry, but it does drive quite a punch with its final moments. The script doesn’t solve everything, but, sadly, that’s life and in a situation like the one presented in this film, it’s unreasonable to think everything will be solved. The Veteran has a point to make, and no matter how downbeat it is, it is something people need to realise is happening, not only in London, but also in my home country of Mexico.
About the author: This film is more about the point being made than about the characters. Yes, some of them are stereotypes, but you’d be scared to find how much reality looks like an archetype.