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Purple Heart (DVD Review)

4 May, 2008 By: John Latchem

Street 5/6/08
$24.99 DVD

Not rated.
Stars William Sadler, Mel Harris, Ed Lauter, Demetrius Navarro.

Director Bill Birrell's Purple Heart, which he co-wrote with Russell Gannon, seeks to examines the cost of war on those sent to fight it.

The film begins with a soldier named Oscar Padilla (Demetrius Navarro) in therapy describing a mission in Iraq in which he was captured and tortured. Oscar is a sniper with an elite special-forces unit given secret orders to assassinate Saddam Hussein before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

Oscar soon disappears, sending his superiors into a panic over the prospect of an unstable military-trained killer on the loose. Col. Allen (Sadler) shows up at the office of the therapist, Maj. Harrison (Harris), looking for clues while remaining evasive about his true motives.

Oscar's whereabouts aren't too hard to figure out. His mother just died and a newspaper photo places him at the funeral. Allen is off to apprehend his man, which will probably lead to Oscar being locked in a psychiatric ward for the rest of his life despite the objections of Harrison.

The setup and payoff are pretty one-note, but the film compels when Sadler and Navarro are finally put alone in a room together. Oscar now thinks his hometown is Iraq, and he's hunting the men he thinks tortured him. The slightest similarities are enough to set him off, creating a palpable tension.

The movie isn't so much concerned with the successes or failures of the Iraq occupation as it is with the ramifications of certain training methods employed by the U.S. military. While the idea of a psychotic super soldier secretly lurking among an innocent populace is a scary one, it's hard to accept some of the extremes put forth in the film.

The plot also employs some political machinations the script seems ill-equipped to develop properly. Making a Defense Department undersecretary a pompous blowhard may seem like a popular sentiment, but it's an obvious copout and creates an extraneous subplot that wastes time better spent rounding out the other characters.

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