'Men Go to Battle': Tribeca Review
Two Kentucky brothers take different paths in the Civil War
The Civil War provides two brothers a stark opportunity to differentiate themselves in Zachary Treitz's Men Go to Battle, a Kentucky-set drama that manages to conjure a small world despite the limitations of a microindie budget. Minimalist in terms of action and scope but attentive to the texture of what is onscreen, the film will leave many underwhelmed on the fest circuit and has limited prospects beyond; but other viewers — like the jurors who gave Treitz the Best New Narrative Director award here — will see an emerging talent working in an genre that would scare away most first-timers.
Tim Morton and David Maloney play Henry and Francis Mellon, adult siblings living too close for comfort on a weed-dominated patch of land near the fictional hamlet of Small's Corner, Kentucky. Hoping to clean his acres up and sell them, the tall, talkative Francis isn't shy about approaching those with power to ask for help, even crashing a fancy-dress party to make his pitch to town founder Mr. Small. Dragged along, the quieter Henry makes clumsy small talk with one of Small's daughters, Betsy (Rachel Korine); their absurdly picky analysis of local weather offers some very welcome laughter. He seems to be charming the girl despite himself, but miscalculates at the last minute, embarrassing himself so badly he runs off into the night.
Henry keeps running right into the ranks of the Union army, embarking on a long exile during which, at least for a while, nobody in Small's Corner knows if he's alive or dead. It's not much of a life, as scripted by Treitz and Kate Lyn Sheil (who plays Betsy's sister), but while surviving deprivation and battlefield carnage, Henry does seem to become something like his own man. A sparse, no-score soundtrack focuses on natural ambient sound and helps put us in Henry's place, as does DP Brett Jutkiewicz's tight framing. (Those tight shots also eliminate much of the need for costly battlefield choreography.) We have little clue what Henry expects will be waiting for him if and when he survives the war. But one thing is sure: He's never going to live in Francis's shadow again.
Cast: Tim Morton, David Maloney, Rachel Korine, Kate Lyn Sheil, Steve Coulter, Emily McDonnell
Director-Editor: Zachary Treitz
Screenwriters: Zachary Treitz, Kate Lyn Sheil
Producer: Steven Schardt
Executive producers: Jamie McDonald, Trey Beck, Vallejo Gantner, Dashiell Gantner, Nancy Black
Director of photography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Production designer: Jacob Heustis
Costume designer: Elizabeth Crum
Sales: Ben Braun, Submarine
No rating, 97 minutes