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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Soldier's Girl (2003)
Soldier's Girl (2003)
Showtime // R // January 27, 2004
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 4, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

The military has long had rules against homosexuals being allowed in the service.  When President Clinton tried to get those rules changed, the compromise that was reached was known as "don't ask don't tell" policy.  Homosexual acts were still against the rules, but superiors could no longer ask a subordinate if he was gay, and as long as the solider didn't tell anyone, he would be able to stay in the military.  The policy has been criticized from many quarters, but it is still in place.  While A Soldier's Girl doesn't comment directly on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, it does play a part in the movie.  Based on a true story, this movie looks at the relationship a young army enlisted man has with a pre-op transsexual.

Barry Winchell (Troy Garity) is a young army private who has been newly assigned to the airborne infantry.  His roommate is Justin Fisher (Shawn Hatosy,) a mercurial enlisted man who becomes Barry's friend, is given to mood swings.  A group of men from the base go carousing in town and end up at a club that features acts by female impersonators.  At the club Barry meets Calpernia Addams (Lee Pace,) a very attractive pre-op transgender individual.  The two talk, and Barry is attracted to Calpernia.  She is a calm and gentle and caring, the opposite of the people he meets in his military career.  Barry starts to call Calpernia on the phone.  They become friends and eventually, more than friends.  Barry hides his relationship from the men at the barracks, of course, but the rumors start to fly.  Fisher is appalled at the thought of a homosexual in his unit, and can't just let that go.
The script to this movie is very good.  This story of young love is told in a low key fashion that suits the material.  It would be easy to make this into a sensationalistic movie, but isn't.  The transgender Calpernia is treated very evenhandedly, she is neither glorified nor ridiculed.  The relationship between Barry and Calpernia is shown very compassionately, never becoming judgmental.

The quite and gentle romance sequences are offset by life on the army base. The rumors about Barry and his relationship with the volatile Fisher add a good dose of drama that gives the movie a sense of urgency, especially if you recall the actual events and know how the story is going to end.  The creators are able to tell this story of hate and intolerance without becoming preachy and heavy handed.

There is a good amount of ambiguity.  It is not crystal clear why Barry calls Calpernia after he sees her in the club, or why he gets involved with her.  Fisher's possible homosexual tendencies are also hinted at, but only in the most uncertain of terms.  This vagueness is refreshing.  So many movies go out of their way to make sure every plot point is crystal clear.  But things are often not black and white in real life, and this movie is so much more interesting because you have to wonder about people's motivations.
The entire cast was superb.  Troy Garity and Lee Pace were excellent as the two lovers, giving their characters dignity and vulnerability.  Through their acting you could see how the two very different people could be attracted to each other.  The standout actor though was Shawn Hatosy as Justin Fisher.  His performance was stellar, showing all sides of Barry roommate.  He was alternately cruel and kind, a bully and a good friend.  Hatosy was able to fold these contradictory traits into one person and bring him to life.
This moving film was well made and wasn't too heavy handed.  It is a touching and honest look at an unconventional relationship.

The DVD:


Audio:

The audio was presented in a stereo and 5.1 mix in English, and there was a Spanish 2.0 option as well.  The 5.1 soundtrack was fuller than the two channel version, with the dialog being a little clearer.  There was not much use made of the soundstage, a couple of times when the troops were out in the field practicing a helicopter would swoosh by from the rear.  There was some music from the rear channels also, but this was a minor effect.  Being a dialog driven movie, there wasn't much call for much more.  The dialog was clean and clear, and there were no major audio defects.  Viewers will be pleased with the way this DVD sounds.

Video:  

The full frame transfer on this made for cable movie looked very good.  The colors were realistic and there was good detail, even in dark areas.  There were minimal digital artifacts which were not distracting.  A good transfer all around.

The Extras:

A nice set of bonus material was included with this DVD.  First there was a commentary with Director Frank Pierson, Actor Troy Garity, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner and the real Calpernia Addams.  They talk about the evolution of the script, the training the actors did to prepare for their roles, and the differences between the movie and the real events.  The insights into how and why they shot certain scenes were quite interesting.  A good commentary.

There are also short press junket type interviews with Troy Garity, Lee Pace, Shawn Hatosy, Frank Pierson, and Calpernia Addams.  Here the creators talk about the movie and what it means to them.  The talk with Calpernia was the most interesting and insightful.

A featurette, Soldier's Story, looks at the real life people behind the story and what happened after the movie ends.  There are more interviews with Calpernia and also Barry's mother.

Lee Pace Make-up is a look at what it takes to get actor Lee Pace ready to film his role.  The go through the process of applying his prosthetic pieces and other makeup effects.

In addition to these, there are also text filmographies for the actors and trailers for Out of Order, Queer as Folk Season 3, and HIV/AIDS:  Empower Yourself.


Final Thoughts:

When I received this DVD in the mail, I wasn't very excited about watching it.  A story about a transsexual having an affair with an army soldier just isn't my cup of tea.  But the strong acting and quality script won me over.   This is a moving film that was much better than I was expecting.  Recommended.

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