Battle Scars introduces friends Michael (Kit Lang), Vinny (Arturo Castro), and Tommy (Illya Konstantin), who are so close they might as well be brothers. When Vinny is drafted to the army during the Vietnam War, his two friends enlist with him. After being discharged, Michael returns home to a dead wife, a child he’s never met, a country protesting the war he was fighting, and without his friends.
Between dead-end jobs and alcohol abuse, Michael’s days are a haze, as he tries to numb his feelings. That is until an unsavory buddy offers him the chance to take a little back from the country he has given so much to. The two plan to rob a safe full of gold, from someone who probably wouldn’t miss it very much. But an unexpected relationship with activist Jane (Emily Trosclair) and a third robber added at the last minute throw a wrench to the heist.
Battle Scars was written by director Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Christopher Lang, from a story by the two of them and Michael Kuper. And the plot is the biggest problem with the movie. The filmmakers are quite ambitious and try to cram in far too much into the film, which only runs approximately 84-minutes, yet somehow still feels padded. The first 10 to 15 minutes are set within a high school, just before joining the military. It is unnecessary and poorly paced.
“…Michael returns home to a dead wife, a child he’s never met, a country protesting the war he was fighting, and without his friends.”
Starting with the trio leaving basic training, and briefly explaining to some random soldier that they are all from the same hometown would get to the horrors of the war quicker while still introducing all the relevant information more concisely. This theoretical opening serves a dual purpose. See, doing this, then cutting back to a minute or two of their hometown – such as Michael proposing to his wife – would pave the way for the fractured story structure that is how the bulk of the film to begin as soon as possible.
Then there’s the whole heist plot, and it is terrible. For one, the dialogue does not properly establish why this place was chosen or why that date and time. It’s all a bit confusing, to be honest. For reasons that remain inexplicable, Jane finds and recognizes Michael during the robbery, through his mask. It is ridiculous enough that she shows up there, but it is impossible to swallow that she would know Michael with his face covered up.
And Battle Scars has several points where I thought the movie was about to end. At absolute rock-bottom, Michael is with a hooker in a fleabag motel when all the turmoil in him is released in a violent moment, and he chokes the lady. She understandably flees, and as he falls onto the bed, he asks, “Where are you going?” He repeats it a few times, so that it seems he is asking himself, not the hurt and scared prostitute, that question. It is one of the best scenes in the film, and while bleak, really does feel like the end. Grim, yes, but it matches the visuals and downtrodden exploration of PTSD that is Battle Scars.
This is followed up by a superfluous scene where Michael is attempting to steal a car and is beaten up by its owner and friends. It is maybe two minutes long and is the worst part of the film. Not just because it serves no purpose whatsoever, but because the dialogue is overwrought and melodramatic in a way that the film avoids at other times. This awkward scene is followed by several more moments, just reiterating the film’s themes well past their welcome.
"…one of the better, more honest, and intense explorations of PTSD I have seen."