Movie Review ~ Wildcat

The Facts:

Synopsis: Back from the war in Afghanistan, a young British soldier struggling with depression and PTSD finds a second chance in the Amazon rainforest when he meets an American scientist, and together they foster an orphaned baby ocelot.
Stars: Harry Turner, Samantha Zwicker
Director: Melissa Lesh and Trevor Beck Frost
Rated: R
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:   Far from simply joining an endless list of documentaries charting the long-term effects of PTSD and the ripples it sends through the lives of men and women in the military, Wildcat offers a fascinating way inside the story. It’s still a raw examination of trauma and how war can damage emotions irrevocably. Nevertheless, directors Melissa Lesh and Trevor Beck Frost don’t leave the possibility of hope to die on the battlefield.

Lesh and Frost juggle several relationships that are central to the plot. The first is between graduate student/preservationist Samathna Zwicker and discharged solider Harry Turner. They’ve both come to the Peruvian Amazon to make a difference and what starts for her as a noble effort to give animals impacted by rainforest deforestation and poaching a fighting chance ends with his attachment issues with an ocelot named Keanu they raised from infancy. Of course, it’s about far more than Harry’s ties to the cat; he’s channeled a lot of his anger about being helpless to the horrors of war in Afghanistan into Keanu’s recovery and release. 

As Zwicker feels the pull to continue her studies away from the rainforest, it isolates her boyfriend again, further complicating the matter. This is when the soldier looking for answers, like the wildcat he’s tending to, needs socialization. The eventual downfall of the romance and project is documented with unbiased but unflinching honesty. 

More intriguing than you may think and filled with real-life curveballs only a true story could lob without blinking an eye, Wildcat was expected to make the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary but didn’t show up when that roster was announced. That’s unfortunate because, for all the standard documentaries about war and the internal wounds it leaves, this film clearly shows the toll in a tangible, relatable way.

Movie Review ~ Wildcat (2021)


The Facts:

Synopsis: After militants ambush her convoy in the Middle East, an ambitious reporter is taken captive and held hostage. Now forced to confront her troubled and traumatic past, she desperately searches for a way to bring down her captors and survive with her life intact.

Stars: Georgina Campbell, Luke Benward, Mido Hamada

Director: Jonathan W. Stokes

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  Sometimes, the mantra “It’s just a movie” works not just to help you through watching a particularly hard sequence in a film but also at the end when you need to summarize it for yourself.  It’s neither dismissive nor offering of praise, it’s short but not too short, it’s open-ended for you to add more if you want or just slap a period on at the end and call it a day.  It’s not the deepest evaluation/critique you can give a film, nor is it the worst (that would be “Eh.”) but it might be the most utilitarian when a filmmaker hasn’t left you much to digest by the time the credits roll.  This week, I can give some examples for the new Middle East set war thriller, Wildcat

It’s just a movie. A reporter (Georgina Campbell) has been ambushed in Iraq by extremists that have killed all but one solider (Luke Benward, Life of the Party) in her party and both have been brought to a secret location where they are held hostage. While the solider is routinely subjected to the kind of vicious torture in an adjacent room we only hear at times, we get a front row seat for several of her fingernails being yanked out with a pair of rusty pliers.  Using her exposed nailbeds as pressure points, the leader of the group (Mido Hamada, American Sniper) seeks to discover her true purpose in the city and if she’s actually a CIA agent traveling undercover.  The activists want codes to the American embassy, and they believe either she or the solider can provide them…and both know once they obtain that info their lives will be useless.  So begins a one-room cat-and-mouse game, mostly between the captive and her captor as she plans an escape while feeding false information to bide her time, information that if found to be fake would mean certain death. 

It’s just a movie. For all the tension this summary would seem to rouse, writer/director Jonathan W. Stokes strangely never lets you forget you’re in your own home watching this play out on screen.  There’s nothing transporting about the ambience of the piece, save for some mighty committed performances from Hamada and especially Campbell.  The film opens with that genuinely unnerving fingernail pulling and I had hoped some of that energy level would/could be maintained, considering Wildcat didn’t have a robust running time.  Unfortunately, the rest unspools almost in little vignettes between Campbell and Benward as the last solider alive, peppered by appearances of Hamada and another, more proficient torturer (Maz Siam) who handles the unpleasant dealings as if he’s plucking out an eyelash. 

It’s just a movie. I half expected to find that Wildcat was an adaption by Stokes of some play because it’s so self-contained and feels like it would lend itself well to the urgency of a one act theatrical experience.  That way, the tension could easily be ratcheted up with more plausibility because live audiences tend to suspend their disbelief at a greater rate than movie audiences will for these types of films.  Some of the contrivances of the plot, especially in its disappointingly conventional third act and even more traditional conclusion, just don’t work if you aren’t fully swept away by the action.  Stokes never manages to get our attention long enough to bring us to that place. 

It’s just a movie. One movie can make the difference in a career, and this could definitely serve as a calling card for Campbell in the near future.  While she’s been an active presence onscreen for over a decade and received good notices before, she anchors Wildcat with such strength that my opinion of the movie improved after a reconsideration based solely on her performance.  She’s onscreen for nearly all 93 minutes and must juggle several different priorities throughout, maintaining a detailed gameplan for each.  That’s hard work for just one person and while Hamada is a strong scene partner throughout and Benward gets better as the film goes on, Campbell is on target from the moment you see her. 

It’s just a movie.  So there you have it.  Wildcat joins a long litany of war films that have one large goal but forget to mark small victories along the way.  These are just as important as meeting your end target and getting from Point A to Point B.  You can tell from the get-go where this one is headed but spend some energy over the first forty or so minutes figuring out if anything will deviate from the expected.  When it doesn’t, you settle in to watch it follow a well-worn course. After all, it’s just a movie.