There’s a reason World War II continues to be a fertile source for storytelling and gets preferential treatment from the other mass conflicts. Not only is the line between the good guys and bad guys astoundingly well-defined—unusual for war—but there are countless stories of every variety scattered throughout those six years. There are heroics, tragedies, unlikely alliances, romances, horrors and even potential for comedy (see The Great Dictator or To Be or Not to Be). Dirty Bomb, a short film directed by Valerie McCaffrey, puts a lesser-known story on the screen—one that spotlights individuals who commandeer their tragedies to perform great heroics. These heroics are not the kind that involves marksmanship or slow-motion acrobatics, but, instead, quiet decisions that have loud results.
The film follows the complementary stories of Aharon (Ido Samuel), a Jewish man in a concentration camp, and a squad of American soldiers who are struggling to advance on German forces. The concentration camp where Aharon resides seems to specialize in slave labor, for Aharon is forced to assemble a V-2 missile, also known as a “vengeance weapon.” Desperate men are known to make desperate decisions, and through the plight of the American squad, we see the result of Aharon’s.
“…she takes a different path by presenting the heroes as victims and the victims as heroes.”
McCaffrey slyly sets the two stories up, as she’s fully aware of the audience’s expectations. With that knowledge, she takes a different path by presenting the heroes as victims and the victims as heroes. This isn’t done in a highly manufactured way, either, but in a plausible, illuminating way, which is important, because the film is based on a true story. This subversion of the norm is perfect framing for a short film, as it’s a small but impactful alteration to a story that we think we already know. The guys with guns break into the prison and save the helpless prisoners. Not this time.
For something that’s surely low-budget, the film does a convincing job of creating its environment. Much of this credit should go to the actors, particularly Samuel. Even though the concentration camp initially looks like a fenced-in warehouse on a backroad, Samuel and the actors around him give the foreground enough believability to supplement the background. Samuel’s eyes show a brokenness, but also great determination, and it’s those eyes that come to summarize the film.
Dirty Bomb tells two stories connected by the bravery of a man who has nothing to lose. These stories are not only complementary to one another, but necessary. While the film isn’t exceptional in its design, it’s subversive without sacrificing believability, and that’s not easy to pull off.
Dirty Bomb (2018) Directed by Valerie McCaffrey. Written by Valerie McCaffrey. Starring Ido Samuel, J. Michael Trautmann, Stefan Simon, Dallas Hart, Hunter Doohan, Clayton Haymes, Robert Arce, Connor Linnerooth, James Babson.