Sgt. Will Gardner tells the story of an Iraq War veteran and shows the effects that traumatic brain injuries have on America’s returning veterans.
Writer-director Max Martini is known for portraying a number of military roles on screen. Maybe it’s because of taking on those roles but it’s admirable for the actor to bring the troubles facing American veterans to the screen. After all, thousands of American veterans can be found along many streets and curbs asking for help. I think back to the early 2000s when we saw all those Support the Troops signs pop up in yards. That’s fine and all but what were people doing to support them after they got back from war? Unfortunately, it’s a question we have to ask ourselves today. It’s very hard to watch this film and not ask ourselves these questions.
Helping American veterans is neither right-wing nor left-wing. This is less of a military film than it is the struggles of a war veteran who needs help. As a result of his service in Iraq, Will Gardner is suffering because of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Meanwhile, he gets regular flashbacks as a result of PTSD from his service. Take both of these into account and his situation is perfectly understandable. This doesn’t make any of it right but Gardner struggles to transition back into society. As a result of these struggles, Gardner goes on a motorcycle journey to reunite with his son, Will Gardner Jr. (Leo Martini).
There’s some humor along the trip. This comes when he gets somehow mistaken for Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston. For what it’s worth, both Martini and Cranston were in Saving Private Ryan.
There’s also a serious side to the journey, too. This comes in the form of Gardner’s friend from fighting in Iraq, Samuel ‘Top’ Gallegos (Omari Hardwick).
The film ends with Sgt. Will Gardner sitting on steps with nothing but a sign that says “Veteran – Please help.” This is followed by the ever important postscript. There are approximately 50,000 veterans that are homeless every night. A Defense Department report by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reported 383,947 veterans were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries since 2000. This isn’t helped by the findings that suggested the deaths of over 300,000 veterans in 2015 because of healthcare. Every day in America, there are 20 veterans a day who resort to suicide by ending their lives. The takeaway message from Sgt. Will Gardner is that American veterans deserve better.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Max Martini
CAST: Max Martini, Omari Hardwick, Lily Rabe, Elisabeth Röhm, Dermot Mulroney, with Robert Patrick, and Gary Sinise