It could be easy to assume that I am not the target audience for Chase Conner's extraordinarily involving film Less Lost. As a Church of the Brethren pastor alongside my role as film journalist, I am an avowed pacifist or, perhaps better stated, a committed peacemaker. While I am certainly not anti-military, I'm not really one who finds myself easily drawn into films with a strong military theme.
So, it says a lot that I was at about the five-minute mark of Less Lost when I realized that I had set everything aside, was no longer taking notes and was no longer contemplating my review.
I was glued to the screen and I cared about these people.
I cared about Luke (Shane Fike), a young man who is medically retired from the U.S. Army. I cared about his wife Jenn (Heather Dodson), a young woman attempting to be present with him but also determined to protect herself and her daughter. I really cared about Faith (Leisa Marie DiGeorge), a young girl struggling with being afraid of this man she calls daddy.
Less Lost is a compelling and thought-provoking and deeply felt journey through Luke's healing journey. It's not so much Luke's physical wounds that are the problem, though they are certainly serious. Instead, it's Luke's difficulty in putting away the past memories and events and actions that are threatening to destroy everything that he truly does love. When receives an ultimatum from Jenn, an ultimatum that arises out of an increased level of threat towards Jenn and Faith, Luke faces the very real possibility that everything he loves could slip away if he can't find a way to come back to reality. Through the help of a fellow vet and friend, Darien (Brandon Alexander), there's hope but it's sure not going to be easy.
In a mere 77-minutes, director and co-writer Chase Conner has managed to capture what so few big budget Hollywood films have managed to capture - the devastatingly universal yet intimate impact of war on people and on society. Less Lost doesn't take a position on war but, perhaps most accurately, takes the position that we damn well need to do a better job of taking care of our soldiers as they return. Luke, a fictional character, really isn't a fictional character because anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that his story is replayed time and again as our soldiers return home.
Yes, I said "our." Whether you agree with the war or not, the simple truth is that these young men are returning home and many of them are dramatically changed or traumatized or wounded in ways both seen and unseen. If you call yourself a peacemaker, as I do, then you ought to give a damn about these young men because we as a nation have to find a way to bring them back to a place of peace within themselves so that they can heal their bodies, their minds and their families.
In 77 minutes, Conner makes you think about these things while you're also feeling Luke's story and watching him try to grasp for something resembling hope. If you didn't give a damn before, it's hard to imagine you won't find yourself giving a damn after watching Less Lost.
That's effective filmmaking. This is effective filmmaking, though it all begins with Conner's top notch cast. Shane Fike gives a tremendous performance as Luke, a young man with macho pride and wounded vulnerability and all the signs and symptoms of one rip-roaring case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Conner keeps it real rather than playing up the drama, no small task given just how dramatic his story is as it unfolds. The performance of Heather Dodson as Jenn is nearly as compelling, and it's hard to picture military wives watching this film and not nodding their heads with gratitude that someone finally managed to capture an authentic performance onscreen.
Heck, even young Leisa DiGeorge is heartbreakingly wonderful as young Faith. There's one scene where she radiates such vulnerability that you find yourself just wanting to run up to her and hold onto her and protect her. In short, you find yourself feeling just like her mother in that scene.
Then, there's the sensitive and remarkably in tune performance of Brandon Alexander, a cinematic newcomer who should have folks knocking on his door after his performance here as the friend who is slightly farther down the healing path and determined, dare I say it, to make sure that no man gets left behind.
The script, penned by both Conner and Fike, is straightforward yet consistently authentic and compelling. D.P. Marco Cordero's lensing far transcends what one expects from a micro-budgeted film as does Teddy Blass's original score.
There are films that come along every once in awhile that grab hold of you and make you realize that they're telling you a story that you need to hear. That's Less Lost. You may not realize you need to see it, but you really do.
Less Lost is currently on the film festival circuit and, not surprisingly, already has several in the bag or lined up including a screening this past week in Seattle at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival along with festival appearances at Soho Film Fest, Canada International Film Festival (where Conner was recognized with a Rising Star Award), Bare Bones International Film Festival, Palm Beach International Film Festival and others. For more information on the film, be sure to check out its website linked to in the credits on the left of this review.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic