YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


The high price of serving your country

A Marine on leave from Iraq begins to question the war and his life in Carl Colpaert's "G.I. Jesus."

January 26, 2007|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

One of the ways the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan differ in the public mind from previous conflicts is that film is increasingly part of the discussion while the fighting's still going on.

Joining the fray with "Home of the Brave," "Harsh Times" and a slew of documentaries is director and co-writer Carl Colpaert's "G.I. Jesus," which follows a young Marine (Joe Arquette) returning to Los Angeles on leave from Iraq. Mexican-born Jesus joined to earn citizenship for himself, his Dominican wife (Patricia Mota) and daughter, but as he faces the possibility of immediate redeployment he wonders if it's a bum deal.

"You went to Iraq to make us legal," his wife says.

"I killed a lot of people to make us legal," he responds.

Plagued by doubt and sexual jealousy, Jesus starts to question everything -- including reality. The increasingly paranoid Marine is haunted by his experiences, but Colpaert dodges the traumatized-vet cliches to convey Jesus' inner turmoil in detailed, imaginative and unsettling ways.

An ordinary domestic scene is shot in green night vision. Military conversations segue seamlessly into civilian ones as Jesus' tour of duty and home life converge in his mind. In a well-heeled home where something unsavory simmers beneath a civilized sheen, a couple locked in lascivious embrace includes a corpse-like woman. When a Middle Eastern man pops up at Jesus' home and the Marine recognizes him from a gas station, the mysterious man acknowledges the earlier encounter -- "I'm from where you get your gas."

Through the prism of Jesus' troubled mind, the movie wears its politics on its crazy-quilted sleeve. There are references to conspiracies actual (the 1973 CIA-backed coup in Chile) and theoretical (plots between the pharmaceutical industry and the military to experiment on troops), and vague plans to explore illegal "funding alternatives" for the wars.

The film has a weird, surrealistic feel abetted by a lack of conventional structure, keeping the viewer off-balance. On the down side, that means the movie occasionally rambles. The staging tends toward the static, the cast is uneven and the small film is technically limited.

"G.I. Jesus" asks serious questions that can only be answered by the individual, such as: Is citizenship worth any price, and whether real recovery is possible from participation in war. The choices made by the characters are sure to infuriate some, but at least they add to the discussion.

"G.I. Jesus." MPAA rating: R, for language, some sexuality, nudity and violence. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In selected theaters.

Los Angeles Times Articles