At the end of 2008’s ‘The Hurt Locker’, an ex-soldier struggles to choose which type of cereal to buy. Accustomed to life-or-death situations, he is incapable of such a trivial decision. It’s a brief scene, but it perfectly captures the difficulty of adapting to civilian life after the horrors of active duty. This is precisely the kind of vibe that ‘The Veteran’ aims for, but misses entirely.
Robert Miller (Toby Kebbell) has just returned from Afghanistan. Unable to get a job and still haunted by his experiences of war, he feels like an outsider. He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which makes it even more difficult for him to adjust.On its own, this would have been enough, but there’s more: Miller starts monitoring suspected terrorists for the government, and uncovers some kind of conspiracy. Meanwhile, a local gang starts terrorising his council estate, so he has to deal with that as well. So now there’s espionage conspiracy and social commentary.
Miller’s psychological problems present an interesting examination into the effects of war, but there isn’t enough of it. Any credibility that builds up is shattered every time the story wanders elsewhere. Just as viewers get a glimpse into Robert Miller’s psyche, the film jumps away into ‘Spooks’ mode – shot after shot of people in cars, watching or following or driving past each other, seemingly without reason or consequence.
Then there is the council estate storyline. The handful of scenes featuring hoodies and poor grammar fail to mask a lazy attempt at trying to make the film gritty and realistic. Of course there are places and situations just like the council estate portrayed, but there is nowhere near enough development to make viewers actually care about these people and their ‘hood. Without actually stopping to examine the social issues implied, the inclusion of these scenes is an exercise in timewasting.
The problem with ‘The Veteran’ is that it lacks focus. Indecisively jumping all over the place between different genres and irrelevant plot lines, the film has a scatter-gun approach that doesn’t hit any of its targets. The narrative just ends up feeling disjointed, which allows very little emotional investment. It is hard to understand what is going, but even harder to care about it.
The action is another thing that’s indecisive. There is initially very little action, and when there is some violence, it comes in short bursts. It is effective, and clearly meant to contrast the gun-pornography in American films. Then the film changes gear and gives Miller a machine gun. With no clear sense of identity, the film is as confusing as it is frustrating.
There are hints of things that could have made this a good film had the filmmakers not tried so hard to be clever. The surveillance sections occasionally present an effective bit of tension. Toby Kebbell does a good job essentially driving the film by himself, playing Miller with a constant restlessness that makes him seem genuinely uneasy.
None of this, however, will save this film from the bargain bin at your local petrol station. What starts off as a believable, gritty portrayal of a man’s plight rapidly descends into incoherent tedium. ‘The Veteran’ spins too many plates, and ultimately ends up dropping them.