Marshall Thompson, Ron Kovic, Cindy Sheehan, Martin Sheen and others
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY
Marshall Thompson, Kristen Thompson
War. What is it really good for, anyway?
From August 2005 through August 2006, Sgt. Marshall Thompson wasn't much different from any other American soldier serving in Iraq. By the time Thompson returned home, however, Thompson had become a changed man. What Thompson saw during his year in Iraq as a military journalist changed him forever. By the time Thompson returned home from his tour of duty, Thompson had interviewed thousands of fellow soldiers ranging from privates to generals and he returned home with a startling realization...the war in Iraq was and is an unjust war.
It was a simple realization and yet one that caused Thompson to take an abrupt detour from the military life he'd been living...a life that had included stints in Kosovo, Macedonia and Korea.
Before you start thinking that "A Soldier's Peace," the documentary based upon his life once he returned home from Iraq, is just another story about some commie pinko peacenick I urge you to think again.
Marshall Thompson isn't from a military family, but he had no hesitation about joining the military. He contemplated the Marines and the Army Infantry, before finding out that the Army would offer him the chance to practice his love of journalism. Like many other Americans who were enraged after 9/11, Thompson joined the military with the desire to serve his country and right the wrongs that had been committed that day. Thompson doesn't really qualify as a pacifist, though he can't deny that his experiences in Iraq have given him considerable doubts about the usefulness of war.
Thompson, like many Americans, has simply come to realize that American actions in Iraq began without just cause and continue without just cause and, even worse, to the detriment of the nation we are supposedly helping and to the families of thousands of soldiers killed or permanently disabled by U.S. military actions.
Before his tour of duty in Iraq was finished, Thompson had realized the truth. While it certainly presented him with a moral and ethical dilemma, Thompson still cherished the opportunity to tell the stories of the military's men and women. What he couldn't do any longer, however, was fulfill his responsibilities in creating public relations materials designed to put a positive spin on military actions.
Thompson spoke to his wife Kristen, at home with his two-year-old daughter Eliza, and shared his revelations. Kristen, a lifelong democrat long opposed to the Iraqi war listened and supported her husband as he processed through what would have to happen next.
His tour of duty over, Thompson returned home to a hero's welcome and, much to the dismay of many in his conservative Utah community, immediately began speaking out about this unjust war.
"A Soldier's Peace" is a documentary created by Thompson and his wife, with support from other family members, about what Thompson did upon his return home.
What did Thompson do? He decided to tackle the subject on his homefront, Utah, a notoriously conservative state that until recently polled 20% higher than most other parts of the country in their support of President Bush and U.S. military actions in Iraq. Thompson decided that the best way to get his message out would be to, quite literally, walk 500 miles across Utah with a message of peace, love and understanding.
Sgt. Marshall Thompson became a peace activist.
"A Soldier's Peace" follows Thompson's 28-day journey, one day for each 100 American soldiers killed in Iraq at the point of Thompson's walk, and the people who joined him, opposed him, supported him, guided him and challenged him along the way.
A simple film, shot on a remarkably low budget of $10,000, "A Soldier's Peace" accomplishes much of what Michael Moore attempted to accomplish in "Fahrenheit 9/11." "A Soldier's Peace," however, avoids tricks, gimmicks, confrontations or trickery. Instead, "A Soldier's Peace" simply follows one man who shares his story with crowds, small and large, as he walks across Utah with a simple mesage of peace while simultaneously treating everyone he encounters with the same respect and dignity whether they support his mission or not.
Along the way, Thompson encounters numerous other peace activists including such predictable personalities as Cindy Sheehan, Martin Sheen, one of his own role models in Ron Kovic and, perhaps most unlikely of all, rapper M.C. Hammer. He garners support from a host of peace organizations including Code Pink, Veterans for Peace and several others.
As simple and straightforward as "A Soldier's Peace" is, Thompson keeps the film balanced with equal time and voice given to those who oppose his message. Thompson, who chuckled embarrassingly when a comment was made during the film's Lake County Film Festival screening about his making a film about himself, paints himself positively but with moments of great humanity as he struggles to adjust to the demands of daily walking and, most movingly, when he receives news from his wife about a serious health issue facing his young daughter and, as any parent would do, immediately decides to end the walk.
As could be expected from a $10,000 film, production values for "A Soldier's Peace" are quite modest. They do, however, benefit tremendously from Utah's natural beauty and the intimate nature of the material itself.
"A Soldier's Peace" deservedly captured the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature during its recent run in the Chicago area's Lake County Film Festival. Only officially discharged from the military in the past couple weeks, Thompson is now working as a reporter for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah while the film begins its run on the film festival circuit.
One of the greatest parts about being a film critic is that, ever so often, I get to see a film that seemingly comes out of nowhere and just blows me away with its simplicity, beauty, honesty and spirit. "A Soldier's Peace" is such a film.
"A Soldier's Peace," with its subtle blend of humility, humor, dedication and compassion, is an inspiring and thought-provoking look at one man's grassroots effort to create a peaceful world.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic