I was approached by Mike Zawacki, the director of THE WARS OF OTHER MEN (2010) to review a test screening recently. The version I saw was about 90% there, with maybe one or two long effects shots missing. Yes, I know, IMDB lists this movie as premiering two years ago but apparently that was a film festival cut. The version I saw was about 26 minutes long and appeared to be complete, less the effects shots. IMDB lists this movie as being in post-production.
Setting and Art Design:
Wars of Other Men takes place in war set in a time period that is difficult to ascertain, but it appears to be roughly the 1920s in some form of alternate timeline. The architecture in the background is distinctly modern looking in places but there are touches that suggest something between a steampunk and “dieselpunk” setting. I have read that the director filmed in abandoned areas of Detroit, some of which have a distinct “war zone” look and feel. The dialogue had some interesting anachronisms such as “Seek Cover” instead of “Take Cover!”, and the accents were all over the place. The visuals, especially the uniforms, which make clever use of surplus Warsaw Pact uniforms and ancient leather harness items, were excellent– though the occasional Detroit Industrial gothic building in the background in some shots was jarring. Naturally, this being a Steampunk film, there were some excellent digital effects in this movie as well:
A lieutenant (he is never given a name) is introduced in a slow closeup, staring out at a landscape:
I’ll stop for a second and commend Scott Norman, the actor playing the Lieutenant. The Wars of Other Men is a movie about choosing between being a good soldier and being a good man. The internal conflict the Lieutenant is suffering is mirrored in his very expressive face. There is precious little exposition at the start of this film; it really isn’t required– just to establish the setting by showing off some cool footage of the vaguely teutonic enemy forces, who appear to have the upper hand in this war. We also get to see the wonderfully executed enemy zeppelin:
The Lieutenant is in charge of a small section, smaller than a half squad. They are introduced in the midst of a recon patrol.
The general tone of the first part is downbeat. The side the Lieutenant and his people are on is clearly not on the ascendant. During the course of their patrol, they encounter the vaguely Teutonic bad guys putting up some sort of network of devices that will dispense a super weapon called “The Fog”.
This scene establishes that the Fog is a dreaded weapon and that the enemy has it and the good guys do not. The Fog is a chemical gas weapon that resembles mustard gas, only ten times more intense. In a later scene, one of the soldiers in the section is exposed to it, and he dies a nasty death.
The Lieutenant is called in to headquarters. The Lieutenant is informed that the scientist that created the Fog is in the very city they are fighting over, and he oversees a Fog production facility in full operation. The Lieutenant is ordered to capture the Scientist, not to kill him, and to take enough information and equipment from the facility so the Lieutenant’s side can start manufacturing the Fog. The Lieutenant, having seen what this weapon can do, raises objections on ethical grounds, but is forced to take the mission by threat of arrest. So he takes his four man section on the mission to capture the Scientist.
Along the way they encounter an armor patrol (which had little to do with the plot, but did showcase some spiffy WWI era digital tank effects — it looked like a British Mark V “Male” with a turret up top)
They are attacked by a seemingly large force of seemingly Teutonic bad guys tossing chemical weapons, but are given some top cover by their side’s zeppelins:
They manage to fight their way inside the complex and are positioned to take the prize of the enemy scientist. In the process, they lose a man to the effects of the Fog grenades, and he dies a horrible, messy death, underscoring how terrible the Fog is.
Inside the complex the Lieutenant arrives at his moment of truth.
I won’t reveal the ending, but suffice to say it was telegraphed early and should be no big surprise. The plot isn’t subtle.
I really like this movie. It tells a big, epic-feeling story in a small space. It’s clear that the director/producer, Mr. Zawecki, was working on a tight budget in places– I think the grand total of actors for the entire movie might be under a dozen, all told for both sides the conflict depicted on screen. So we’re not going to see a Peter Jackson battle sequence on screen. Regardless, Zawecki made a lot happen with very little. The blending of the special effects, which are quite good, with the smaller touches (such as the odd out of time uniforms and setting) created a big budget look to the movie. The moral dilemma of the Lieutenant is heavily underscored in a few scenes that emphasize his humanity. Perhaps too heavily underscored, perhaps not. Certain roles were a little pat, such as the two higher officers, who were bombastic and macho to the point of being a cliche. Scott Norman does a great deal of heavy lifting for the plot narrative and delivers an outstanding performance. Jonny Victor, as Corporal McCrae, also delivers a standout performance as the voice of the enlisted men. My only real objection was the short length of the movie– we are left wanting to see more of this world, more of these characters. The brief format and economic storytelling left me hoping that it would get expanded to a feature length movie some day. As it is, I have high hopes that a network like SciFi can pick it up, it would be a perfect half hour show for them. I wish Mr. Zawecki the best of luck in his future endeavors and hope he can get THE WARS OF OTHER MEN in front of some cable networks when it is finally complete. I know that he is currently in the middle of a kickstarter campaign to get the extra funding he needs to finish the project and I hope this works out for him. Strongly recommended!