FORT MCCOY – SLIFF Review
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.