Since military operations began in Afghanistan in late 2001, side effects
few movies have focused predominantly on the sacrifices that military families make each and every day. Even fewer of them— and I can’t think of one offhand— focus on female soldiers who are torn between their important work overseas and their responsibilities to their own families at home.
Fort Bliss is a film that does just that.
Michelle Monaghan, who stars as the main character and previously co-starred on the successful HBO drama True Detective, recently visited D.C. to talk about her performance in the film and how the role opened her eyes. “It wasn’t something I considered, you know,” she stated when talking about the feature’s subject. “It was an aspect of war that I wasn’t necessarily privy of and wasn’t enlightened to, and I think that’s the whole kind of point of this.”
In the drama, which is now in limited theaters and available on demand, Monaghan stars as Maggie Swann, an Army medic stationed in Afghanistan. When her tour ends, she returns to the United States but finds no one waiting for her at the homecoming ceremony. Her five-year old son Paul (Oakes Fegley) barely remembers her and her ex-husband Richard (Ron Livingston) doesn’t push the subject (or attend the ceremony himself).
Things have changed for the family, Richard realizes, and it’s a harsh reality that Maggie is ill-prepared for. She expected her life to return to normal but instead, her anxious son has a hard time adjusting to his mother returning home.
The main performance here is a difficult role for any actress to pull off and one that forced Monaghan to research both the medical work her character performs and the daunting obstacles Maggie faces at home. Monaghan noted that “with the Army’s support,” members of the cast went down to the actual Fort Bliss to prepare for the shoot and she went “through an intensive medic training program.” Alongside writer/director Claudia Myers, she even spoke to many veterans and spouses about their difficult experiences returning home after being away for so long.
And although Hollywood hasn’t covered it that much, Monaghan noted that the experiences Maggie faces onscreen are not that different than the ones faced by real veterans, especially women who are deployed overseas.
“This is a very common story in the military,” she said, “because there are 200,000 women on active [duty].” She added that “40% of them are moms… and so it was important to represent it in the right way.”
Of course, Monaghan faced some anxiety about taking on the role (adding that real veterans were on set during filming) considering how important the subject matter is. But it all seems worth it now.
When I asked Monaghan about the reaction she’s received from veterans who saw the film, she seemed close to tears. One could tell about important this project was to her on a personal level. She was “humbled and… gratified” by the response, she said adding that the film was shown at the recent GI Film Fest. She stated that veterans— of both sexes— told her that the movie “represented them in the most authentic way that they’ve ever seen…”
Monaghan noted that even though this was one project for her, it really impacted her. “My passion for this [subject] goes well beyond this movie. This is something that I want to continue.” Only one week beforehand, she added, they showed the film “to 600 [or] 400 people in uniform [and] it got a standing ovation…
“I’m really proud of it,” she said.