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Review: The soldiers in ‘Recon’ gab their way through a dangerous mission

Soldiers carrying guns walk among trees and snow in the Italian mountains.
The World War II drama “Recon,” based on the novel “Peace,” follows four soldiers on a dangerous mission in the Italian mountains.
(Brainstorm Media)

The World War II drama “Recon” follows four American soldiers sent to scout a Nazi force on the other side of a wintry Italian mountain. It’s not entirely clear, however, what the filmmakers were looking to find.

The GIs are led by somewhat inexperienced straight arrow Cpl. Marson (Alexander Ludwig of “Vikings”) and haunted by an extremely questionable act by their sergeant before they left. The three in Marson’s command are mouthy Asch (Chris Brochu), all-American Heisman (RJ Fetherstonhaugh) and malcontent Joyner (Sam Keeley). Irritated by their bickering is enigmatic local guide Angelo (Italian screen legend Franco Nero). Apart from their personal disagreements, the soldiers must also contend with a sniper.

“Recon” doesn’t suit its “thriller” designation. The discoveries of the protagonist have more to do with himself than anything in the plot. If tension was the filmmakers’ aim, they decisively miss — especially if it was meant to come from the puzzlingly casual sniper situation. Any possibility of buying into the story’s reality is defused by the soldiers being so dang gabby, and loudly so.

Their mission is predicated on not knowing where the enemy is, or whether their guide is even on their side, as they trek into unknown territory. By the way, it’s apparently freezing cold, but we never feel it. They’re a tiny squad (for reconnaissance, not engagement) that could easily be wiped out if they found their quarry, or certainly if their quarry found them first. Yet they shout, they argue, they nearly come to blows — no shortage of testosterone here — as they stroll out in the open. Even when they realize there is, in fact, a sniper in the area, they prioritize dialogue over safety. It’s confounding.

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Rather, what effectiveness the film has comes from the personal drama of its characters weighing the morality of actions taken during wartime, and wrestling with the act of killing, even in that circumstance. Not that their takes on those subjects are fascinating or new.

In adapting Richard Bausch’s acclaimed novel “Peace, “ writer-director Robert Port (an Oscar winner for the documentary short “Twin Towers”) makes odd cinematic choices. The film’s blown-out look and walk-and-talk narrative are progeny of “Saving Private Ryan.” Presumably to convey how nagging certain memories are, Port uses some jittery flashback editing; it has the effect of jolting the viewer out of the period (as does the contemporary score). The inciting incident is presented via a storytelling trick that makes one wonder if this will be a fantasy or sci-fi time-loop tale; then the technique is never revisited. There are bizarre setups and decisions made — though these may come from the award-winning novel, which this reviewer hasn’t read. The novel is based on a real incident when Bausch’s grandfather was a soldier. Still, the final, fateful decision, in particular, is extremely difficult to understand.

Nevertheless, “Recon” doesn’t try to be a thrill ride. Its ambitions have more to do with the kind of introspection that is worthwhile, but that might prove dangerous in combat.

'Recon'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Nationwide Fathom event Nov. 10; other engagements to follow

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