A Matter of Honor (Short Film)

14 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

David Bogard’s short film “A Matter of Honor” is a war drama that premiered in the Little Rock Film Festival. And how odd is it that it screens in the same festival as another made-in-Arkansas war drama, Taylor Dan Lucas’ “Watch the Rhine?” Both shorts are exercises in setting, acting, and writing, and they don’t rely on cheap gimmicks to make their audiences feel something they couldn’t already. They’re both small films that rely on something more—the performances, the location, and the script. They’re both very strong pieces of work.

I’ve already reviewed “Watch the Rhine,” so if you want my further thoughts on that, check out this link: https://smithsverdict.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/watch-the-rhine-short-film/

While “Watch the Rhine” took place during World War II, “A Matter of Honor” occurs on the night of June 2, 1864, during the American Civil War. Three Confederate soldiers (Ed Lowry, Tom Kagy, and Elliot Gilmartin) are sitting around a campfire in the middle of a forest talking about what they should expect in the future during the war. The youngest one (Gilmartin) is fighting for vengeance after a Union soldier killed his father, while the two older soldiers don’t feel like they know what they’re fighting for anymore. After one (Lowry) leaves the other two, a young Union soldier (Jason Willey) comes along to arrange a trade of scarce goods, such as coffee and tobacco. The two Confederates agree to it, and they enjoy a moment of friendly banter with the soldier. But when a gruff Confederate officer (Scott McEntire) comes across them, the situation takes a serious turn and leads to a deadly encounter. The only solution they can think of in the moment tests their honor.

“A Matter of Honor,” which runs for 19 minutes, is a powerful short. The reasons for this are many: For starters, the actors are all solid as they exhibit the true emotions of what their characters are going through. It’s a dialogue-heavy short; the conversations these people have are perceptive and convincing without being too heavy about the themes and conflicts. The flow of each talk is convincingly handled, even when the soldiers from each side meet and talk around the fire; their banter about how they’re going to handle battling on opposite sides the next day is not only insightful but also humorous, which is a refreshing move. The character arcs, while we’ve seen them before, are well-done and suitable for the material. The film, shot on RED, looks good, and the cinematography is great. I like that it’s held in one outdoor location (like “Watch the Rhine”). The costumes look convincing. And when the Confederate officer comes to resist the Union soldier’s appearance, I felt the suspense; I must confess even though I probably knew the resolution, I didn’t know how this scene would play out.

There’s much to like about “A Matter of Honor.” And when all is said and done, if you can get into the talks, the characters, and the conflicts, then you can get into how the film plays itself out after the climactic encounter. You have five soldiers, different in many ways but similar in one in that they fight for honor, in the middle of a war and of a scenario that isn’t seen in most war films. It’s effective and very well-handled.

There’s one thing I didn’t like about “A Matter of Honor.” Without giving it away, it features characters practically taking turns during a grisly act. The way it’s handled, you’d think it was a “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” performance. But it’s not very long and the film bounces back with its complexities afterwards. That’s one flaw in an otherwise well-executed short war drama.

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