Men Go to Bat­tle

MEN GO TO BAT­TLE, drama, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Pic­ture a cou­ple of dudes with scrag­gly beards and odd hats, pass­ing bot­tles around a camp­fire. No, this isn’t Coachella or Bon­na­roo dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, where ev­ery­one is wait­ing to see MGMT, Tame Im­pala, or Bat­tles. It’s 1861, and th­ese are real men — with real bat­tles.

The men in question are brothers Henry and Fran­cis Mel­lon, and their pri­mary con­cern is just find­ing a way to keep food in their bel­lies. They share an over­grown patch of forested hills in the heart of Ken­tucky, and as this beau­ti­fully shot de­but fea­ture from di­rec­tor Zachary Tre­itz opens, Fran­cis (David Maloney) is at­tempt­ing to sell a big chunk of it. He is the go-get­ter of the pair, net­work­ing with neigh­bors and com­ing up with schemes to put food on the ta­ble, while Henry (Ti­mothy Mor­ton) sleeps late and tends to keep to him­self once roused.

The brothers make fires. They hunt tur­keys. They horse around, oc­ca­sion­ally with don­keys rather than horses. They com­pete, spo­rad­i­cally and in­di­rectly, for the af­fec­tions of a shop­keeper’s daugh­ter (Rachel Korine). Even­tu­ally Henry gets mixed up in the war, but mostly they just try to es­cape hunger. There isn’t a lot of action here, and long stretches pass by with sparse di­a­logue. The photography is what draws you into the film. Much of it un­folds dur­ing au­tumn, and the cam­era al­lows us to drink in the tex­tures of the land­scape, with its brown­ing weeds, grasp­ing branches, and fallen leaves. The glow of can­dle­light im­parts a sense of hu­man warmth to in­te­rior scenes. We watch Henry wan­der­ing the coun­try­side as the set­ting sun ducks in and out of view be­hind him, paint­ing the fields in sepia tones.

The pro­duc­tion, shot on lo­ca­tion in cen­tral Ken­tucky, got a boost from the 150th an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Per­ryville, a short-lived vic­tory for the South that was quickly un­done by the ar­rival of more Union forces, driv­ing the Con­fed­er­ates back to­ward Ten­nessee (the Union would con­trol Ken­tucky for the rest of the war). Re-en­act­ments of the fight are held yearly at the bat­tle­field, but the an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion brought many more par­tic­i­pants, in pe­riod garb, who were ded­i­cated to mount­ing a re­al­is­tic re­cre­ation of the events. Tre­itz and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Brett Jutkiewicz man­aged to per­suade those tak­ing part to al­low them to film dis­creetly, wear­ing ap­pro­pri­ate clothes and dis­guis­ing the cam­era in a burlap sack so as not to ruin the mo­ment.

It’s tempt­ing to look at Men Go to Bat­tle as a glo­ri­fied call­ing card for the prin­ci­pals, shrewdly crafted to at­tract more lu­cra­tive work, but it’s more than that. Maloney and Mor­ton give nu­anced and en­gross­ing per­for­mances, and the di­a­logue, writ­ten by Kate Lyn Sheil and Tre­itz, draw­ing from archived let­ters of the time, has the ring of a by­gone era with­out sound­ing phony. It’s easy to see why Tre­itz took home a prize for best emerg­ing di­rec­tor at Tribeca last year. This is good in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ing, and a la­bor of love. — Jeff Acker

Real men have beards: Ti­mothy Mor­ton

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