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Review: 'Fray' stands at, and deserves, attention

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The thought of another movie about a war veteran readjusting to civilian life may elicit a feeling that you've been there and done that, but give "Fray" a chance. It's a stirring and involving character study that may not cover much new ground but still packs a quiet punch.

Justin (Bryan Kaplan) is a U.S. Marine who, after five tours of duty — three in Iraq and two in Afghanistan — has come to live in a small, blue-collar town. But money is tight for the haunted, edgy Justin, who's trying to hold it together working sporadic hours at the local lumber mill, living in a dumpy apartment, tending to a bum leg earned in battle and taking classes at the community college.

Matters improve when Justin starts dating his attractive college instructor, the kind, if lonely Cheri (Marisa Costa). Not surprisingly, however, love and commitment are tough hurdles for the wary ex-soldier. He also has a hard time accepting help from his sympathetic mill boss (Wes Harris), an older veteran.

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How Justin navigates his shaky present and uncertain future is handled with grit and authenticity — and a welcome lack of mind's-eye combat flashbacks — by writer-director Geoff Ryan. Kaplan comes off so convincingly, it's not unfair to wonder if he's truly an actor (he is).

Though the supporting cast (Costa aside) is spotty, the dialogue is at times too didactic and the portrayal of our nation's economy has a kind of rearview mirror feel (the film was shot in 2010), "Fray" proves a superior look at what happens when the Justins come marching home.

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"Fray"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Playing: At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood.

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