Movie review of “Men Go to Battle”: This strange Western about brothers separating during the Civil War has much to admire but is hampered by an underdeveloped story and point-of-view. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
The strange, Civil War-era Western “Men Go to Battle” has admirable elements but an underdeveloped story and point of view. It’s an intriguing yet dissatisfying curiosity.
Initially set in 1861 Kentucky, the film begins as a relationship study of two brothers, Francis (David Maloney) and Henry (Timothy Morton) Mellon, farmers struggling to get by on barely productive land.
Despite allusions to the siblings’ vast acreage, a viewer sees only an ill-kept, grassy slice of ground. We accept that the Mellons have more farm off screen: Suspension of disbelief is an essential part of watching this low-budget drama, with its minimalist swaths of antebellum culture and wartime forces.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Men Go to Battle,’ with David Maloney, Timothy Morton, Rachel Korine, Kate Lyn Sheil, Emily Cass McDonnell. Directed by Zachary Treitz, from the screenplay by Treitz and Sheil. 98 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.
We see only visual hints of institutionalized slavery; a soon-to-be-conquered, genteel white society; and the battle between Union and Confederate soldiers. We know a bigger picture lies beyond the visible, but co-writer and director Zachary Treitz brings compressed brutality to the low-key images he does present.
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Living in a cramped cottage, Francis and Henry are like competitive kids, arguing about their land, the right way to roast a chicken, everything. A passive-aggressive Francis tosses a sharp implement to Henry, drawing blood.
It’s no wonder Henry vanishes one day, joining the Union army. For a while, “Men Go to Battle” takes an epistolary form, with the Mellons exchanging courteous letters. Then it becomes about an epic journey home and, finally, a coming to terms with brothers individuating.
The latter theme is the true essence of “Battle,” but the movie’s overextended ambitions crush that simple idea. The result is a lumpy story with no stable perspective.
This modest film’s heart is really in the mysteries of small moments: Henry disappearing into darkness against the roar of a million crickets; an exchange of coffee and tobacco between listless enemy soldiers.
Smaller is better sometimes. This could have been one of those times.