Slamdance 2020 Film Festival Review! Bastards’ Road is an evocative documentary film directed by Brian Morrison. It centers on Jonathan Hancock, a veteran of the Iraq War who goes on a 5,800-mile trek from Maryland to Camp Pendleton, California. All the while visiting his fellow veterans to raise awareness for the struggle soldiers face when returning from combat by telling their stories. Hancock also explores his own missteps along this spiritual and literal pilgrimage to redemption.
Documentaries take time and encompass a vast amount of information, it is the nature of that film genre. So an all too common pitfall such films face more so than most is determining what to include. Frequently documentaries become victims of their own ambition and become bogged down, drawn-out, tangential, or worst of all, just plain boring. So it is my pleasure to state that this film suffers from no such issues. Every scene and subject is relevant and as tributary to the whole, which is a film that flows naturally along Jon’s travels from east to west.
Jon himself is a man in pain, plagued by his past and the intense survivor’s guilt he endures. Initially, he begins his penance walk as a means of wrestling with his demons, but as he progresses, so does his purpose. He winds up walking, not for himself alone, but for all his brothers and sisters in uniform who struggle to reacclimate to civilian life. Jon speaks openly and forthright concerning his inner turmoil, which is only surpassed by his concern for others like him. He is the downtrodden man yearning to change himself for the better, and it is all visible on his face in his every look and contemplation.
“You are not made merely to understand what they went through- you see what they fought for in America’s natural splendor.”
The camera work was also especially impressive. The sprawling aerial shots of the iconic nature and landscape of the continental United States remind you just how amazing this land of ours is. Juxtapose brilliantly against the harrowing first-hand accounts of those men and women who left and came back to us changed. Every story is a heartfelt and sobering account of the horrors of war. Both its effect on those who survive it and the absence felt by those that do not. You are not made merely to understand what they went through- you see what they fought for in America’s natural splendor.
The message of Bastards’ Road is not partisan or political. It is a statement of facts that too few are aware of or acknowledge. War is hell, and it extracts a heavy toll from those who fight it. It is something no one can deny, yet more often than not our soldiers are not given sufficient aide to deal with the gravity of that experience. This is the failure of our culture at large, and the need to change it is our call to action. May this film be the first step in facilitating it. My thanks go out to Jonathan Hancock and all of our veterans for their service.
Bastards’ Road screened at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…Every story is a heartfelt and sobering account of the horrors of war."