This Is Not A War Story begins with a veteran riding the subway, seemingly ignored by all those around him, which is how no one noticed the man died from an overdose of pills. That man’s mentor, Will (Sam Adegoke), feels tremendous guilt over his death and seeks solace in the most unlikely of places: an artist commune populated exclusively by military members all dealing with their own demons. Isabelle (director Talia Lugacy) also joins the artists’ enclave, where they shred their old uniforms into paper and create art from them.
As far as the plot is concerned, that is all there is to the movie. But really, its power comes from the strong characterizations and silent observation of these people dealing with grief, trauma, loss, and much more. In one scene, some 20-minutes in, Will explains he enjoys the papermaking process so much because “it is forgiving,” in that if one messes up, you can always restart. Later on, Isabelle is raging at how Will seems to have it all figured out, and she just wants someone to tell her how to live. There is a shocking power and weight to those statements, one that sneaks up on you slowly.
“…an artist commune populated exclusively by military members all dealing with their own demons.”
Partially, this has to do with the intimate script, which carefully crafts compelling, authentic characters whose flaws are relatable and only matched by their perseverance. While Lugacy is the only credited screenwriter, the movie is based on characters created by Jan Barry, Kevin Basl, Nathan Lewis, Walt Nygard, and Eli Wright. I am uncertain if this is based on a book, or stories, or just on real-life vets these people know (or if they are vets). But no matter, the people moving across the screen are as realistic and engaging as possible.
That raw intensity also stems from the cast of This Is Not A War Story. All the actors, no matter how small a role, absolutely nail their parts. Adegoke and Lugacy’s chemistry is excellent, adding an extra layer of comfort and uneasiness to their characters’ heartaches and pain. It is all so searing and dramatic, and it catches one off-guard. But that is the point, and once things crescendo, the range of emotions they are forced to go through— most believably, it should be noted— is remarkable.
"…for veterans who feel alone, this drama proves that you are not."