A PTSD-afflicted war veteran gets involved with underworld figures in Danny Buday’s thriller.
Writer-director Danny Buday tries to have it both ways with his new thriller about a PTSD-afflicted war veteran who becomes entangled with underworld figures. And like many who attempt to balance social drama with crime melodrama, the filmmaker doesn’t succeed. Featuring that most hackneyed of settings, a strip club, Battle Scars is neither sensitive nor gripping enough to be taken seriously.
The central character, Luke (Zane Holtz), has recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in which he suffered a devastating injury from an IED. Suffering a strained relationship with his wife (Amy Davidson) who can’t take his uncommunicativeness, Luke takes solace one evening at a strip club where he behaves extremely rudely toward sexy waitress Michelle (Heather McComb, Ray Donovan) after she rebuffs his advances.
Michelle takes revenge by purloining Luke’s credit card info and buying some expensive gifts for herself. When Luke gets wind of the charges, he storms back to the club and confronts its owner, Rifka (Fairuza Balk), who calmly responds to his threats by having her bouncer (Jamal Woolard, Notorious) beat him to a pulp. Privy to the struggle is Summer (Kristen Renton), a stripper who happens to be the girlfriend of Luke’s drug-dealing brother Nicky (Ryan Eggold, The Blacklist). The ensuing complications include Luke and Michelle banding together and even striking romantic sparks even as the various characters, including Luke’s domineering, macho father (David James Elliott, JAG), wind up involved in a fateful violent encounter.
Beginning and ending with onscreen graphics providing facts and statistics about veterans and PTSD, Battle Scars strains for a seriousness that it only fitfully achieves. Its most compelling scene has nothing to do with the lurid storyline, but rather involves a quiet moment in which Luke attends to himself in the bathroom and we finally learn, roughly halfway into the film, the exact nature of his injury. Also strong are the moments involving the father, a former Marine, who considers his son weak and even ridicules his Purple Heart.
To get to those, unfortunately, viewers have to put up with a lot of cliches, including the Eastern European strip club-owning villainess who, much like her male counterparts in similar movies and television shows, hits on her employees. And although Balk tries extremely hard to be menacing in her portrayal, she doesn’t pull it off.
Holtz admirably underplays as the emotionally tortured war vet, never succumbing to histrionics, and McComb brings interesting complexity to what could have been a cliched character. But their fine efforts are not enough to compensate for the film’s unearned self-importance designed to compensate for its familiar thriller tropes.
Production: Virtu Entertainment, Ad Lucem Entertainment
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Zane Holtz, Heather McComb, Fairuza Balk, David James Elliott, Ryan Eggold, Jamal Woolard, Kristen Renton, Amy Davidson
Director-screenwriter: Danny Buday
Producers: Danny Buday, Heather McComb, George Young Warner, Lane Carlson
Executive producer: George Young Warner
Director of photography: Jason Oldak
Production designer: Chris Scharffenberg
Editor: Waldemar Centeno
Costume designer: Lindsay Zir
Composer: Teho Teardo
Casting: Miriam Hoffman