Sam Adegoke and Talia Lugacy in This Is Not a War Story (Photo: Acoustic Pictures)

★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Talia Lugacy
STARS Sam Adegoke, Talia Lugacy

There are two “names” attached to the low-budget indie This Is Not a War Story. Rosario Dawson, known for her performances in such films as Sin City and Rent, serves as executive producer, while Frances Fisher, who had supporting roles in two Best Picture Oscar winners (Unforgiven and Titanic) and is the mother of one of Clint Eastwood’s children, appears in one powerhouse sequence toward the end of the film. Yet when it specifically comes to this movie, the names to remember are Talia Lugacy and Sam Adegoke.

Lugacy operates as a multi-hyphenate filmmaker with this picture, as her name appears no less than seven times during the closing credits. Among the jobs she tackles are director, principal scripter, and star, and it’s hard to ascertain at which assignment she most excels. As for Adegoke, he’s the film’s other leading player, and his excellent performance here should bode well for future projects to sustain him after The CW’s Dynasty update (on which he plays Jeff Colby) ends its lengthy run.

Lugacy and Adegoke respectively play Isabelle Casale and Will LaRue, veterans haunted by their combat experiences overseas. There are tragedies on the home front as well, as Will feels guilty that a soldier (Danny Ramirez) he had been mentoring has ODed while Isabelle is devastated that her mother (Fisher) has basically disowned her. Both of them become involved in a fascinating project, one which allows them to not only spend time with other vets (from Iraq, Vietnam, and other global skirmishes) but also hopefully provides them with an opportunity to expel a few demons here and there. The object is to shred military uniforms and turn them into paper, at which point the vets can use the paper to write poems, scribble down thoughts, create visual arts pieces — it’s completely their choice.

Sam Adegoke and Talia Lugacy in This Is Not a War Story (Photo: Acoustic Pictures)

The standing of This Is Not a War Story as an anti-war story is never in question. The characters (many played by actual veterans) often point out the pointlessness of the conflicts in which they were sent to serve and suffer. This is a movie in which those often described as America’s heroes certainly don’t view themselves in such a noble capacity. Will has two particularly potent scenes in this vein. In the first, he states that American soldiers would often “realize that instead of the Jedi, we were the stormtroopers.” In the other, he bristles at the manner in which vets are often thanked by citizens for their service, asking if they were perhaps being thanked for blowing up schools, or maybe for protecting the interests of the oil companies, or possibly for contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

Focusing on PTSD and specifically the high rate of suicide among veterans, This Is Not a War Story is a grim undertaking, but it’s not without hope. That’s particularly reflected during the second half, when the story narrows to focus solely on Isabelle and Will and the relationship that develops between them. It’s a friendship, yes, but a mutual support system seems to be an even better way to describe it. This allows the movie to ultimately circle back to the veterans’ paper project, where these struggling individuals not only find comfort and camaraderie in each other but in the art that is born from the surrendered fabric of war.

(This Is Not a War Story is currently in its festival run and will expand later in 2021.)

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