Back in 2006 Michelle Monaghan, who we’ve grown so accustomed to in cheery girlfriend roles, gave a career-making turn in Trucker, a small but emotionally powerful film about a mother forced to juggle motherhood with an inconvenient job she loves. Monaghan was barely recognizable from an emotional standpoint, playing harder and edgier than we’ve ever seen her, but it showed the full scope of her talents. She’s even better in Claudia Myers’ tough and resonant Fort Bliss, a film which connects on similar themes of motherhood and duty, but from the perspective of a returning soldier.
Maggie Swann (Monaghan) is a top notch Army medic returned home after a 15-month deployment in Afghanistan. There she knew who she was and what to do. She could count on the men and women beside her, and the adrenaline rush of war was easy to get addicted to. Things aren’t so certain back home, though. Her five-year-old son barely recognizes her, preferring Maggie’s ex-husband (Ron Livingston) and new girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui). She’s not used to the lack of structure the outside world holds, and certainly can’t deal with her screaming son or his sleepwalking. Emotional vulnerability is tucked away as if to show it would be an admission of weakness. Not the best quality for a mother to have, nor does it make her budding relationship with a car mechanic easier.
Myers puts Maggie through the paces in showing her disconnect with the civilian world. She’s torn between motherhood and her patriotic duty; struggles with the death of a fellow soldier; and quietly resents her son and ex-husband for moving on. The military wants her skills but doesn’t seem to respect her as a woman, and that’s before an attempted sexual assault complicates her feelings further. Where do her priorities lie? Are they with her family, or with the Army? Is it possible for a soldier, whether they be male or female, to have a military career without sacrificing everything else? If there’s one false note it’s Myers’ neatly-packaged answer to that question.
With an authoritative presence Monaghan demands your attention. She’s the sole focus here and carries the full weight on her shoulders, capturing the unique difficulties faced by women in the armed services. It’s a lot to chew on, and Myers keeps Maggie’s story truthful and grounded, a testament to the real men and women who deal with these issues each day. It’s a familiar story but an honest one that Myers, who worked closely with the military on this and other projects, clearly feels a personal responsibility to get right. There aren’t a lot of fireworks or surprises in Fort Bliss, but it’s a well-told story that pays respect to our men and women in uniform.