The Veteran

The Veteran


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Every major war spawns movies. With the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan they took a while to get started, but in due course they became numerous. One distinct subgenre has been the small budget conspiracy thriller, often British-made, as this one is. Hero returns home, life is tough, an opportunity arises to get involved in secret government work, bad things happen, treachery is uncovered. This one sticks pretty much to form but has two distinguishing features. The first is a strong central performance by Toby Kebbell. The second is that his character has severe post-traumatic stress disorder, to the point where we can't be 100 per cent sure that the things he perceives going on around him are real.

Kebbell has been waiting for a role like this and he makes the most of it, elevating what would otherwise have been a fairly uninspiring film. He's wisely understated, quiet, using only occasional small gestures to express the rage and fear inside this broken man. Excellent sound design helps to shape a landscape where nothing seems safe any more and, indeed, before any London-based threat emerges we find ourselves looking warily at open windows and overpasses, half expecting ambush.

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DOP Philipp Blaubach's nighttime cityscapes are eerily reminiscent of television images of Kandahar or Baghdad, the difference in the architecture disguised by glaring lights and motion blur. The fact that our protagonist cannot escape his fear even back home hints at much more interesting narrative possibilities than those that unfold, but Kebbell is capable of keeping one watching even as the plot disintegrates.

Just how far this disintegration goes is hard to judge because there are points where we have to ask ourselves how much of what we are seeing is going in our hero's head. It is, however, safe to say that the story ultimately attains a degree of confusion that cannot be justified by any exploration of multi-narrative possibilities. Supporting performances are not strong enough to provide us impressions we can properly question, and Brian Cox is a particular disappointment, pretty much phoning in his turn as a cynical old government warmonger. With his last big speech the film makes a mistake typical of its genre, assuming that those who don't share its beliefs are simply unaware of them, rather than that they don't agree, don't care, or don't have the tools to understand. It seems to think it has something profound to say about war and human nature but all it really has is a shortage of imagination and analytical ability.

If The Veteran doesn't work as a thriller, it does at least have some thrilling moments, and scenes of violence and their aftermath are intelligently handled with respect to military realism. Unfortunately the film is let down by an ending that feels like parody, perhaps intentional but really not successful. It doesn't pack the punch it thinks it does and will leave you feeling either disappointed or inappropriately amused.

Still, watch out for Kebbell.

Reviewed on: 27 Apr 2011
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A traumatised soldier returned from Afghanistan finds himself caught up in a conspiracy.
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Director: Matthew Hope

Writer: Matthew Hope

Starring: Toby Kebbell, Tony Curran, Adi Bielski, Brian Cox

Year: 2011

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: UK


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