WASHINGTON - There’s a new movie in theaters, featuring a reckless, divorced, alcoholic, suicidal, nightmare-addled veteran in trouble with the law.
Hear that? That sound is veterans all over the country sighing.
“Least Among Saints,” which opened on Friday, centers on a Marine who served multiple combat tours and comes home so damaged that he sleeps on a couch on his lawn and his only meaningful relationship is with his dog.
“Vets usually get portrayed one of two ways: either the crazy vet that has severe emotional distress or the war hero,” said Jason Hansman, who runs mental health programs for the veterans advocate group IAVA. “It’s never the kind of nuanced gray area of a veteran trying to make his transition home.”
The movie’s plot follows the former Marine as he gives up on suicide - after two failed attempts - and instead searches for redemption by helping out the young boy who lives next door and was recently orphaned after his mother died of a drug overdose. The Marine is portrayed as someone with a good heart but who is haunted by his war experience, leaving him unable to function within the bounds of society.
The writer, director and star of the movie, Martin Papazian, said on the film’s website that he “wanted to do work that would give back in some way.” He said he derived the character from the experiences of a friend who served.
Hansman and other veteran advocates Stars and Stripes spoke with hadn’t seen the movie, but they were wary of what they consider a troublesome narrative of the damaged, unhinged vet that seems to be dominating popular culture.
“Naturally there’s a concern of how the public will receive it when so few people understand post-traumatic stress disorder and military culture in general,” said Ryan Gallucci, an Iraq veteran with Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
Brandon Friedman, an Army veteran and author of “The War I Always Wanted,” said he was tired of the inaccurate stereotype that all veterans come back broken or that those who do struggle are antisocial and psychopathic.
About 20 percent of the 2 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD, so it’s a topic advocates would like to see explored, but if a movie presents the issue as one-dimensional, then “it does more harm than good,” Hansman said.
“There’s a lot more complexity there that Hollywood could explore, but so far they haven’t done it,” Friedman said.
Vets -- who are still cringing from the Oscar-winning movie “The Hurt Locker,” which they universally panned as absurdly unrealistic -- understand entertainment is the No. 1 priority of Hollywood, not accuracy. But too much artistic license could be detrimental to veterans as uninformed moviegoers who aren’t exposed to the military might take fiction as fact, Hansman said.
“I don't want to discourage Hollywood from trying,” Gallucci said, noting that the efforts of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, with “Band of Brothers” for example, have given the public a better understanding of historic conflicts. “They have a very loud voice that a lot of people listen to; if they get it right it could be a game changer for veterans.”