It’s tough to make a film about a service member’s return to civilian life as it’s a topic that naturally lends itself to melodrama—think bombastic flashback sequences to chaotic battles or lots of mopey crying as our hero turns to the bottle.
Cole, written, directed, and starring David Call, is a simple film. But, it’s this simplicity that makes it work. Call wisely keeps all the stakes specific, immediate, and understandable. On its surface, it’s a film about a nervous guy who’s going on a job interview. Who can’t relate? But, it’s all the stuff that isn’t said that resonates here—a man struggling to put on a brave face and keep it together even though we known he’s internally falling apart. In a sense, it’s one of the more honest portrayals of a service member’s reintegration to “normal” life that I’ve seen. It’s emotional by not trying to be emotional. In fact, the film goes for a diametrically opposed approach: stoic and restrained. The result ends up being more profound.
Call’s performance is deceptively complex. As movie-watchers we often conflate “more” acting with “good” acting. In reality, it’s harder to do the opposite—to resist the temptation to go big, to avoid the weepy stuff. In case of a character study like Cole, it’s actually more riveting to watch the protagonist hold it in, always at risk of losing control. Call’s performance walks this interesting tightrope—it’s tightly controlled to be sure, but not so muted that it feels boring or stilted.
The stellar performance should come as no surprise: Call has an extensive resume throughout TV and film. But, amazingly, this is only his second time behind the camera. It’s readily apparent that the film’s subject matter hits a personal note.
As he relates to Short of the Week,
“My brother is an active duty combat veteran and this script came about after visiting him on post and talking with him and some other soldiers and vets. We discussed the difficulties they faced reentering the civilian world and how the all too common depiction of vets in film and television as unstable & psychologically troubled or as unimpeachable heroes had led a widening of the gulf between them and their civilian counterparts, making it increasingly difficult for them to find jobs and re-integrate into American society.”
It’s a really large and important topic—almost daunting in its complexity. But, again, Call is smart enough to convey bigger ideas through the specific and keep the story centered on just one soldier’s experience.
Call is getting ready to direct another short next year that he has aspirations to turn into a feature. In front of the camera, he will be starring in Larry Fessenden’s upcoming film Depraved and the latest season of The Sinner on USA Network.