Before delving into a rarity for me, an actual film review, allow me to give my typical Blu-ray review, for those seeking information on the release....
First, as to the film, it looks about as good as a 1080p transfer can look, when filmed partly at night and partly in the desert. It is imperfect only in location and, for my eyes, the black tones are rich and deep and the colors pop where they are meant to. The drabber locations and color-schemes still allow for wonderful HD clarity, however, there are moments where the camera softens the image or darkness softens the image. The audio is wonderful, with clear sound throughout, including on the special features.
Second, as to the features themselves, the Blu-ray release includes an "Audio Commentary with the writer/director: Henry Alex Rubin, a featurette entitled "Loyalty and Brotherhood: Making Semper Fi" which runs nearly 17 minutes and includes significant cast interviews and director and writer interviews (including both writers), a second featurette entitled "A Battle of Honor: Where Devotion Lies" which is a 7 minute analysis of the themes of the film (including brotherhood and loyalty alongside changes in moral perspective) and, finally, a segment of about 6 minutes of deleted scenes.
Additionally, this title does come with a nice slipcover, featuring the poster artwork from the film, and a digital code. As of now, Lionsgate, the releasing company, is honoring the digital code, at least when redeemed making the selection of Vudu as the vendor, in full UHD quality, which makes this a wonderful release, for anyone with a 4K television. As I can only test via one vendor, I cannot attest to redemption via any other vendor. I can say that Lionsgate has been doing this with some of their releases, as a service to their customers, on films where a true 4K disc release is cost prohibitive and a 4K version exists to be shared, and it is well appreciated.
On to the review of the film itself....
This film is brilliant, as you would expect it to be, given the assembled producers, writer, director, cast and all they have accomplished, up to this point in their individual careers. What surprised me was how universal this film is, in content and relevance, given that it was advertised as, essentially, just another war film. Well, it's not, and thank God for that. Allow me to explain....
While this film does deal rather intimately with the topical issue of PTSD, it is not a PTSD-film, nor is it, for that matter, a jailbreak-film. This movie uses a story told over an extended timeline, a story of a group of friends and reservists living their lives and serving their country, to examine two key concepts, specifically brotherhood and the change in perspective that accompanies horror. In this case, the horrors of war are the clear catalyst, however, the story told here can apply to just about any horror you could dream up.
My little old Dad and I discussed this film, as so many in our family have served, including him, and discussed it in reference to his unique experience, experiences of others and in reference to events in my life, that I never discuss and likely never will outside my home. We concluded that the story told here is incredibly effective, precisely because it is not a unique-soldier-experience-film. The war elements are used as a backdrop for examining who these five men were, before experiencing horror, and who they are in the aftermath.
To clarify the basic plot, five friends, including two brothers, grow up together in a small town. They are as close as five men can be. At a point, very early in the film, one, the irresponsible younger brother, accidentally kills a man in a bar fight, in a way that all too frequently occurs in reality. The other four go off to war, experience genuine horror and then return home, to face the life they left behind, with what you might call new eyes. The elder brother has expanded his experience of life and finds that his understanding of his kid brother's crime is markedly altered and his guilt over not having found a way to save him is eating him alive. The other three men are each faced with a similar shift in perspective, based not only in their brotherhood but in the circumstances of their unique personal and private lives.
At this point there is little I can say that would not give away key moments, which are not found in the trailer and description, so I will simply say that the story progresses through three basic phases: five men at home, four at war, five at home where one is serving time in prison. It explores each of these phases in a way that clearly examines what it means to be brothers, on multiple levels and in multiple contexts, and in a way that examines what it means to experience monumental shifts in perspective, most specifically on the heels of horror. The lead character, the older brother Cal, completely changes his belief system as a result of acts in war, his best friend completely changes his belief system as a result of being maimed in war, and the list goes on. We likened the journey of these characters to members of our family who served in multiple wars, served in law enforcement, to a person in a horrific car accident who survived, to me, and so on, down the line. We found, again, in discussing the film that it applies to any horrific experience which so shocks the system that the mind itself shifts and suddenly the world is different, the moral compass is renewed and altered, the ability to forgive is multiplied, and so on.
I highly recommend this film, not only to those who have served or know people who have served or just want to understand the soldier mentality, but, more importantly, to anyone who seeks to understand the "why" of profound perspective-shifts in people who have experienced great trauma. If you wish to better understand the change in beliefs, the change in perceptions, the change in behaviors, this film pretty much lays it all out there for you. As example, in my family there is a good-natured and running joke concerning how I used to be obsessed with politics and then, suddenly, didn't care who won or lost and no longer had any interest in fighting over such trivial things as anything you would find on a ballot. One person in particular has been bothered by this change for several years now. I bought that person a copy of this film as soon as I saw it and realized what the director and writer were trying to say about a human being before and after horror.
This film says it all, laying it out in the combined and individual stories of the lives of five men, each dealing separately and together with the experience of horror and how it changes an individual. I hope you get a chance to see it and enjoy it as much as I did. Good luck finding a great movie to fill a couple of hours. I'll be watching this one again.