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FORT MCCOY – SLIFF Review

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Review by Dana Jung

Most people don’t know, or at least know very little, about the POW camps that the United States
maintained during World War II. Numbering in the hundreds, in nearly every state of the Union, these
camps at their peak housed almost half a million German and Japanese prisoners. Films based on these
camps have been few (SUMMER OF MY GERMAN SOLDIER, FAREWELL TO MANZANAR, COME SEE THE
PARADISE) and mostly grim reminders of a dark period in American history. FORT MCCOY, a new movie
co-directed by Michael Worth and writer/star Kate Connor, tells a fact-based story set against the
backdrop of the Army base of the title, of one summer in the life of an American family, circa 1944.

The Stirns move to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin when the father, Frank (Eric Stoltz), takes a position as a
barber for the Army base. With his wife Ruby (Connor), sister-in-law Anna, and two young children,
Gertie and Lester, he has moved his family to this remote location to do his part in the war effort, since
he physically failed to make the draft. With GIs on one side training to ship out to battlefronts, and
mostly German POWs on the other, daily life for the Stirns becomes pretty eventful. Anna takes a job at
the base and becomes smitten with a young soldier. Nine-year-old Gertie befriends Heinrich, a young
German POW not much older than her. Ruby worries about her and Anna’s brother, who is stationed
aboard a warship in the South Pacific. Ruby also becomes more and more concerned about the effect
on her children of living in such close proximity to the reminders of war.

Told in a simple and elegant style, with some nice period detail and a lot of humor, FORT MCCOY is a
wonderful little story that takes the familiar themes of how war effects us all and how evil victimizes the
innocent, and shows that love and goodness still remain the saving graces of humanity.

The performances are excellent. Stoltz underplays beautifully, creating a quiet man whom fate has
dealt an unfair (to him) hand, but who draws great strength from his loving wife and children. The
lovely Connor is the solid center of the film, trying to keep her family safe and help assuage the guilt
her husband feels. As Anna, Lyndsy Fonseca (TVs NIKITA, KICK ASS) is all bright-eyed curiosity, but
with an undertone of intelligence and compassion. Fine supporting parts are also turned in by Camryn
Manheim, Seymour Cassel, and Brendan Fehr, and by the child actors as well. The characters are so rich,
in fact, that if FORT MCCOY is flawed, it is in trying to cram too much story into its 100 minutes.

However, one of the strengths of the film is that thematically it stays true to its roots and doesn’t try to
drag in comparisons to the world we live in today, with our own POWs and paranoia. A true labor of
love for Kate Connor, on whose own family much of the story is based, FORT MCCOY is a heartwarming
and satisfying experience that sheds light on a quite different time and place. Watch through the end
credits of the film, and you’ll find there is still meaning to be found in the simplest of images.

Showtimes
Saturday, November 12th at 1:30pm – Tivoli Theatre
Sunday, November 13th at 4:45pmPlaza Frontenac

7 Comments

  1. Valerie M.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Wow, Dana Jung!!

    I’ve had the chance to see this film on numerous festival occasions now. Once again, NOBODY mentions Rene Heger, the young actor who plays the menacing SS officer in the POW camp? He is by a mile the best actor in this film and gives an absolutely astounding performance. I get the distinct feeling that the filmmakers of this project and the critics are afraid to mention him due to a guilt complex that we shouldn

    • Dana

      November 15, 2011 at 11:54 am

      To be clear, Heger barely has any screen time, though his Nazi character does figure into the story’s climax. Also not mentioned was Andy Hirsch, who had a much larger role as a Jewish American soldier who is the object of Anna’s affections. I thought his storyline was a good example of the film trying to do too much, because the movie is about a family, and not about soldiers.

  2. Valerie M.

    November 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Oh sure, he only disrupts the idyllic scene between the children, invades the house and threatens Kate Connor’s character, continuously abuses the little boy which leads to the boy’s you know what and in the end has one of the most intense, scary and raw fight scenes ever put on film. Not to mention, all the scenes where he doesn’t even speak and conveys everything such menacing ease, such as the scene with the record player in the bunks. Anytime ANYTHING exciting happens in this sleeper of a film, it’s because of Heger. And Any Hirsch should not be mentioned anyways, for he is clearly the weakest link of this ensemble cast and only got the part because of his wife (Kate Connor, yes they’re married). And while this film is indeed about family, not to mention Heger’s performance, who incidentally threatens them at all times is just hilarious.

    • Tom Stockman

      November 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      Rene Heger really stood out in FORT MCCOY. Stood out because he was so terrible. His performance was so amateurish it about ruined the film. My Dog would have made a more convincing Nazi. He was just awful in this movie. The guy needs to take some acting lessons or find another career.

  3. Joshua Glickman

    November 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Quite apparently, it must be the nature of German WWII roles because no matter how good the performance, the recognition is almost always omitted. Mr. Heger was fantastic in this film, creeping out audiences whenever he appeared on screen. Tom Stockman’s comment is plain silly and he himself might want to look into a different profession as well, for he has no bloody clue about acting. Eagerly anticipating the release of this true story!

  4. Suzanna S.

    November 20, 2011 at 1:11 am

    I’ve only seen this at RIIFF 2011 and have to say; I did not like this movie much, was actually attending the festival in support of my friend’s film “As If I

  5. Dwain Sundborg

    December 5, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Am I receognizing Guy Pierce from that Australian drag queen movie? Priscilla?Report this comment as spam or abuse

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