One of the great things about blogathons is that they can really get a person out of the familiar, and for me, most of Kurt Russell’s films are definitely not familiar. Sure, I’ve heard of him. He’s been with Goldie Hawn forever. I saw Stargate. I also saw him play Han Solo in the audition readings when Star Wars was being cast. Other than that, Kurt’s pretty much an unknown quantity. I think it’s because I don’t usually gravitate to R-rated action thrillers, and Kurt makes lots of those. Or at least he used to. So when this blogathon came along, I decided to see if I’d been missing anything, and my husband dug out 1998’s Soldier. He saw it four times in the theater. Did I like it? Well…let’s find out.
The film opens in 1996, or Year Zero, in a maternity ward. A guy in black who looks suspiciously like Duke Nukem hangs a sign reading “1A” on selected cribs while other guys in black stand with their rifles at the ready. Then we cut to a bunch of five-year old boys in uniforms sitting on metal bleachers, and the caption reads, “Adam Project, Year Five.” The metal cages in front of them hold rabid dogs and a vicious warthog, snarling, drooling and staring each other down before they’re let out. The kids are not allowed to flinch or look away as these animals tear each other apart.
Next we see a pack of boys running behind one who’s out in front holding a flag. One boy can’t keep up, and an armored vehicle blocks his way. The boys in the pack are not allowed to slow down or react as the straggler is shot offscreen.
Another cut brings us to a firing range, and it’s Year Sixteen. Models of a mother with a baby and a little girl with a teddy bear roll back and forth while the boys blow them to pieces.
The movie makes it brutally obvious that the boys are training to be soldiers, and they’re not allowed to show mercy or compassion. They’re meant to be ruthless killing machines. Their training ends in 2013, when they’re seventeen, and to celebrate, their names and serial numbers are tattooed on their faces.
The film especially focuses on Todd 3645 (Kurt Russell) as he goes through this journey and then as he fights several wars. He’s a sergeant at the top of his game, and so ruthless that he’ll shoot right through a human shield to kill the soldier holding her hostage. His combat record is perfect.
Then in his forties Todd is between wars. One of the top brass, Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs) shows up with a battalion of new soldiers, and not just any new soldiers: These are specially bred and trained so well that they’re practically manufactured. Todd’s commanding officer, Captain Church (Gary Busey) is dubious, so Mekum orders his number one soldier, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Isaacs) to go head to head with Church’s top soldier, Todd.
The two of them take on an obstacle course, and Todd finishes last. By a lot. Then they’re ordered to climb some special chains and fight each other thirty feet in the air. Two more old-style soldiers are sent up just to keep things even, but they both get killed. Todd loses, and he’s tossed aside. Literally–he’s thrown out with the garbage and the bodies of his two fellow soldiers on a planet that’s kept just for that purpose.
Dumping aside, the planet is not the most welcoming place to live. Todd trudges along, battling fierce winds and sandstorms until he gets to a village, where he wanders around mystified. A blast of wind blows him down some stairs, and he looks up find several children staring at him before falling unconscious.
The villagers are stranded on the planet, and they salvage whatever they can find. They’re suspicious about Todd and where he came from, but their first priority is to nurse him back to health. Todd stays with a couple named Mace (Sean Pertwee) and Sandra (Connie Nielsen) who have a young son, Nathan, and finds himself in a world that’s utterly foreign to him. He’s never seen women before, or children, or families. He’s never planted a garden. He’s certainly never seen a party before, and looks down through the skylight while the villagers have a Christmas party.
The villagers are a little afraid of him, because Todd is very taciturn. He would rather use a fuel tank as a punching bag than join the community in their activities. Even though Todd isn’t hostile–he saves one villager, Jimmy (Michael Chiklis) from a wind turbine–the villagers aren’t sure what to make of him.
While fixing dinner one day, Sandra asks Todd what it was like being a soldier and what they’re allowed to feel. Todd hesitates a long time before blurting out, “Fear and discipline.” Sandra’s face screws up with compassion and she hugs Todd, who doesn’t know what to do.
The village eventually banishes Todd because he was trying to show Nathan how to kill one of the poisonous green vipers that infest the place. Mace and Sandra jump to conclusions, and Todd is out, albeit with survival equipment and a new scarf made by Jimmy. It’s not until Nathan kills a viper that’s about to bite a sleeping Mace, that Mace realizes the village made a mistake, and he goes out to find Todd.
Not surprisingly, Todd is taken aback in his own deadpan way that Mace has come after him, but before anyone can really do anything, a military ship lands on the garbage planet for their bi-annual security sweep. I won’t ruin anything, but suffice it to say, Todd’s old superiors are going to be sorry they threw Todd out with the trash.
I’ll be honest: I dragged my feet about watching Soldier. When I finally did hit the play button, I hated the first twenty minutes or so. I know combat training isn’t a picnic, but the beginning of the movie just isn’t my taste. I guess I prefer more stylized combat like what’s in Lord of the Rings. Although, a bunch of guys fighting while hanging from chains thirty feet in the air is pretty stylized, too. The idea of commandeering children for combat training was a little chilling, as well. I did like seeing Jason Isaacs playing his usual slimeoid, though.
Once Todd was off the ship, the film pretty much won me over. Pretty much. All of a sudden, he’s a fish out of water, and it’s very interesting watching him struggle to relate to people. Kurt Russell’s performance is compelling. He’s mostly silent in the film (he only said a grand total of 104 words), but everything he’s thinking begins to come out on his face, and he’s an intense presence. I waited in vain for him to show faint glimmers of shaking off his conditioning. He does learn to exhibit compassion, although his facial expression never changes, and he doesn’t leave off his ingrained-from-birth habit of calling everyone “Sir.”
Overall, I had a better time than I thought I would. The film still isn’t quite my taste, and I kept glancing at the clock while watching it, which is always a bad sign, but I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing it again. Who knows, maybe in a few years.
For more Kurt Russell, please see Realweegiemidget Reviews and Return To the 80s. Thanks, everyone–this was fun! Thanks for reading as well. Another “Origins” post is on the way tomorrow. Hope to see you then!
This film is available on DVD from Amazon.