They say the midrange movie is dead. Since all movies have to be blockbusters now there’s no room for a story that doesn’t require special effects. They say those mid-level drama stories have moved to television now and that’s a good thing for TV, but it looks like VOD is keeping their movie counterparts alive. Allegiance has been available all month on VOD before a Dec. 28 New York and Jan. 1 Los Angeles opening, and it is exactly the kind of juicy drama that doesn’t need any flashy packaging to work.
In 2004, the National Guard is being called into Iraq. People who signed up to get college paid for are now facing years-long tours of duty. Lt. Sefton (Seth Gabel) is connected and knows how to work it, so he’s got his primo safe assignment. Medic Reyes (Bow Wow) isn’t so lucky. His son is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and even Sefton can’t get him reassigned. Reyes is just such a good medic, they need him in Iraq.
Now that is some juicy drama. We definitely need our wartime medics, but it’s so morally corrupt to refuse him to see his dying son. That’s the beginning of this ethical dilemma that deepens at every step and presses new buttons. Should Reyes go AWOL? Should Sefton help him? If so, why is Sefton still cushioned by his family connections?
The military in this movie is not above blackmail. You sort of knew it was coming when they set up a character with a legitimate medical waiver for his injury, but it’s still damn good drama when the movie asks the question: how far do you go? Do you play this card to make an example? Sefton’s decisions change as the situation gets more serious, but he still considers all his options. He’s neither going to do exactly what his superiors want nor what’s in his own best interest. He’ll find that juicy third option that’s even more dramatic.
Allegiance may not come out and ask the real question: What good is the best medic if you’ve kept him away from his dying son? Reyes probably won’t refuse to treat someone in jeopardy, but he’ll be distracted at the very least. That question isn’t a leap though and we need drama to suggest impossible questions like this. I certainly get a kick out of drama where there’s no right answer, and someone’s going to get hurt no matter what. We have it easy. We’re just an audience sitting and watching it. If the real people who faced these choices don’t get let off the hook, we shouldn’t get a pat and easy resolution.
The base on which Allegiance takes place hardly looks like a real military base. That’s sort of a movie thing, because it probably was a real base and real bases are probably this sparse, but there’s no production design. They just hang a flag and some symbols to minimally indicate this is a base. Any window is blown out so they don’t have to dress anything outside the building. The drama plays out well and that’s what counts in Allegiance, but we’ve been spoiled by big budget production design.
It’s also shot with handheld cameras, a pet peeve of mine, but it’s okay for indies. The handheld cameras gets around quickly so they can get all their shots to explore the drama, and it’s not overly shaky.
I was totally invested in Allegiance. I love when a movie creates an inherently dramatic situation and just lets it go. Sometimes plots try too hard. Allegiance just goes where the story takes it. If these sorts of movies can get seen in streaming/download platforms, that’s a great thing for the art of storytelling.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.