It’s 2004, and the George W. Bush administration has tapped the National Guard for fresh bodies to send to the front lines of the Iraq War, resulting in the largest deployment of part-time soldiers since World War II. It’s the age of the “backdoor draftees,” the era in which Michael Connors sets his debut film, Allegiance, an amateurish thriller that’s only occasionally stimulating as it takes a deeper look at the poor souls whose one-weekend-a-month undertaking quickly turned into an 18-month commitment.
Taking place over the course of a single day, the film tells the story of Lieutenant Danny Sefton (Seth Gabel), a former Ivy Leaguer and senator’s son who’s granted a transfer and relocated to a cushy desk job, much to the chagrin of his fellow soldiers, who are gearing up for deployment to Iraq. Trouble arises after Specialist Chris Reyes (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss) reaches out to Gabel, asking him for help in receiving a similar transfer so that he can remain stateside and care for his terminally ill son. When Moss’s transfer is denied, Gabel agrees to help spring him from the base, drawing the menace of the maniacal Lieutenant Alec Chambers (Pablo Schreiber). So the film has lofty ambitions, but despite the grand stakes presented in the narrative, it never reaches the nail-biting heights it aspires to. Whether it’s the clunky dialogue, sloppy characterizations, indistinct approach to mise-en-scène, or, more often than not, a combination of the three, Connors can’t quite seem to connect the dots he’s so meticulously mapped out for himself.
Still, the premise is intriguing. The film stews with palpable contempt for the Bush administration, and the disdain the troops show not only for the prospect of fighting in Iraq, but also for their commanding officers, reflects the animosity Americans had—and continue to have—for the recent wars we’ve waged in the Middle East. As the film’s moral center, Reyes is pitted against the institutional rule of the American military, vehemently opposed to fighting in Iraq, but presented with no other options. His “allegiance,” as it were, is to his family—not so much his fellow soldiers, and certainly not to his superiors. His stance, however noble, is ultimately futile considering the circumstances (as acknowledged in the pragmatic, if not pessimistic, denouement), but Reyes stands as a humanistic beacon for which the audience can sympathize.
Connors does a fine job of not passing judgment on his characters, yet his depiction of Reyes’s dilemma is about the only thing he handles correctly. Under the guidance of a more sure hand, the rest of Allegiance may have been an admirable study of individualism. But as it stands, the film suffers from Connors’s lack of fortitude, be it formally, narratively, or otherwise.