Documentarian Heather Courtney admits she had "no clear idea" what her story would be while mulling what would become "Where Soldiers Come From," an intimate look at three young Army reservists — and two of their families — from her rural hometown on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Despite the film's unvarnished emotionality and even-handed messaging, Courtney never seems to have found an appropriate focus, resulting in a work that's less urgent and involving than its intense subject matter might have dictated.
This can be partly attributed to the local grunts Courtney chose to profile: moody artist Dom, goofball Cole and sardonic Bodi, childhood friends who arbitrarily join the National Guard for the money and perks, only to end up overseas. These buddies, seen from around ages 19 to 23, might aptly represent our working-class heartland but otherwise lack the charisma, warmth or depth that could have truly invested us in their journey.
Courtney follows the guys from enlistment and basic training to their nine months in Afghanistan serving as roadside bomb sweepers, then on to their return to Michigan. Only in this last third does the film involve as it charts the after-effects of war: Traumatic Brain Injury, disillusionment, anti-Afghan sentiment and the struggle to reconnect with loved ones. Maybe that was the hometown story Courtney was ultimately searching to tell.
"Where Soldiers Come From." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.