out of Five
Running time: 77
A tender and poetic documentary, which revisits a group of veterans as they discuss their emotional scars left by the Vietnam War, We Went to War is extremely powerful, thanks to its personal interviews and strong and compassionate direction.
What’s it all about?
Back in 1970, director Michael Grigsby produced I Was A Soldier, one of the first ever films to follow a group of veterans returning home from the Vietnam War. The documentary, which was hailed as a classic by Sight & Sound, followed three young soldiers, Dennis, David and Lamar, as they reflected on their struggle to return to their normal lives in Texas after the war. Now, over forty years after its original release, Grigsby, along with co-author and producer Rebekah Tolley, return to Texas for We Went to War, revisiting the now aged soldiers and their families to discuss and reflect on life after the Vietnam War.
With We Went to War, director Michael Grigsby certainly proves himself as a talented and compassionate filmmaker, with a unique and selfless attitude to making documentaries. Merging shots from his original film with present day footage of the war veterans today, Grigsby ably communicates a clear contrast and comparison of how the American soldiers’ lives have changed (or rather, not changed) since the first time he explored their situations back in 1970.
The gentle, tuneful soundtrack is fantastic, reflecting the film’s tone and mood, as well as the Texan landscapes (which are beautifully photographed by Jonas Mortensen), extremely well. With US Military suicides currently at a peak, this documentary also feels very timely and relevant, particularly as the individuals in the film take time to discuss their thoughts on recent wars and how they’ve affected the young people in their family.
The interviews with the veterans and their close family and friends, who have watched their loved ones’ traumas travel right down through to younger generations, are sensitive and incredibly personal. As they discuss their emotional scars and struggles to alleviate their nightmares, it’s incredibly overwhelming and upsetting to watch, to the point where it can actually be a little uncomfortable. In fact, the only clear fault with this film is its tendency to linger on certain shots for a little too long, which can make the documentary ever so slightly strenuous at times.
Despite its being a minor struggle, We Went to War is an incredibly beautiful and poetic documentary that will stay with you long after the lights come on. Recommended.