Set on the American home front during World War II, the handsomely shot "Fort McCoy" glows with nostalgia. The period details are so lovingly burnished in this uneven, if heartfelt, feature that for a while they threaten to overpower the story, which delves gently into a rarely explored aspect of the war.
Writer and co-director Kate Connor's memory piece, inspired by a momentous chapter of her family's history, revolves around a prisoner-of-war camp in Wisconsin. Playing opposite Eric Stoltz, whose lead turn marks a welcome return to the big screen after several years, Connor portrays a character based on her grandmother. Their understated chemistry — his pensiveness and her spunk — lends emotional shadings to a drama that's otherwise unambiguous to a fault, complete with narration that sums up the obvious.
As Frank Stirn, a barber who's classified 4-F because of a heart murmur, Stoltz seethes beneath his quiet civility. Frank moves his family to Fort McCoy in 1944 out of a sense of duty as well as shame that he's not in uniform. While he provides shaves and haircuts for U.S. troops and German POWs, his wife, Ruby (Connor), works the switchboard and her teenage sister (Lyndsy Fonseca) takes a clerical job — and a shine to a Jewish soldier (Andy Hirsch).
With its mellow pacing, soothing score and exposition-filled dialogue (nearly every conversation addresses the war head-on), the decidedly old-fashioned "Fort McCoy" could have used a more subtle touch. Even so, Connor and co-director Michael Worth touch on resonant questions about patriotism and national identity. When Frank faces off, in shirt sleeves and fedora, with the SS officer who serves as the movie's all-purpose villain, the gloves come off and the movie's pulse quickens.
MPAA rating: R for violence.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.