Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.
Apparently the slam on MEN GO TO BATTLE has become, for those critics who even noticed it, “mumblecore Civil War.” Yes, guess the inarticulate, no-budget aesthete isn’t just for dull romantic comedies set in and around film schools any more.
But that snarky classification would do a slight injustice to director Zachary Treitz’ debut feature. The okay production actually put me more in mind of famously micro-budget 1961 Oscar-winning short A TIME OUT OF WAR. That film wowed the Academy at the time with the notion that the War Between the States could be distilled into one little, violence-free vignette that probably cost less than the boots used in John Huston’s famously overbudget THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE.
With its average-man’s POV of the Civil War, MEN GO TO BATTLE is set in 1861 rural Kentucky, where the semi-literate Mellon brothers half-heartedly maintain the nonproductive family farm – when they’re not trying to just sell it off and be done - amidst horseplay and no particular interest in the big fight between the Union and the Confederacy.
After Henry Mellon (Tim Morton) meets romantic rejection from a high-born maiden hopelessly out of his league, he impulsively skips out to join the Union Army, leaving behind his easygoing but quietly domineering sibling Francis (David Maloney).
Tenderfoot Henry’s bungling experiences on the battlefield hint at a tragedy in the making…but nothing really comes out of it, except for both men growing up a little, and apart quite a bit. Treitz leaves a lot offscreen – possibly too much – in a naturalistic, low-key, partially deadpan-comic approach to a much-filmed topic, shooting on location in the Bluegrass State and making use of the local Civil War re-enactment hobbyists to really bring the thing in on a skimpy budget. Although so little of the conflict is actually dramatized that one wonders if even that was necessary.
What’s left is a sensation of a generations-old family story, passed down from generation to generation, of what old Uncle Henry or Grandpa Frank may have gone through in the Civil War, and how they were just little, insignificant parts of a bigger epic. Kind of like we all are, though some of us like to pretend otherwise (speaking of, how are those anti-Trump protests going, all you tools?). (2 3/4 out of 4 stars)