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The Independent Critic

Richard Henzel, Brian Stuart Boyd, Joshua Short, Lavell Brooks, Denyse Palmer
Benjamin Dewhurst
23 Mins.

 "Sarge" Screening at 2017 Heartland Film Festival 

Sgt. Franklin Spencer (Richard Henzel) is an elderly Army veteran living in a nursing home with dementia and PTSD whose only real obsession seems to be making an escape in time for his granddaughter Suzy's (Brittany Rachelle Smith) graduation. However, every time he tries to make a break for it he's foiled either by the draconian janitor, a sinister apparition of a long ago war buddy, or fellow residents who seem to take a certain glee in picking on the isolative, frequently delusional man. 

Written and directed by Benjamin Dewhurst and shot in Central Indiana, Sarge is winding up its festival run with a screening as part of the Indiana Spotlight at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival. While it could be said, at least to a certain degree, that Sarge is an overly ambitious effort with visual effects that don't always rise up to the film's story, it could also be said that Sarge is a heck of a film with a terrific ensemble cast and an intelligent, insightful and occasionally heartwrenching film that will likely have you running out the door to visit your own facility-based loved one. 

Richard Henzel is a bittersweet tug o' the emotions as Franklin, a man who's frequently lost within his own world yet whose moments of lucidity seem to always center around thoughts of his granddaughter, played almost entirely through vocal work and to sweet perfection by Brittany Rachelle Smith. Michael Anthony Bagozzi's Rifleman has a poignancy infused impulsivity that makes his interactions with Franklin both tense and strangely affectionate.

Sarge is a surprisingly fun film, Dewhurst largely inspired by his own experiences being raised by grandparents and having experiences similar to those witnessed in the film. While there's an exaggerated effect going on throughout the film, it's used to tremendous impact and turns the film into an immensely entertaining yet deeply meaningful effort. 

Joshua Short does a disturbingly wonderful job as Kody, while Steven Durgarn shines as Floyd, Lavell Brooks is terrific as Moe, Emmanuel Carter rocks it as Emmanuel, and Shani Salyers Stiles is memorable in a brief appearance as the facility's activity director. 

Sarge benefits greatly from Hannah Radcliff's creative, multi-layered lensing while Sean Sumwalt's original music manages to weave together both the film's lightly entertaining moments with its remarkably emotional ones. While the film feels like it's a tad overly ambitious, this doesn't negate the tremendous visual effect work by Chase Bickel in accomplishing pretty amazing things with very little. 

Sarge is one of those little indie gems that reminds you of the immensely talented pool of actors, actresses and production professionals working in the Central Indiana film market. It's the kind of film you enjoy watching in a film block and the kind of film that lingers in your heart long after the closing credits. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic