“Fort McCoy” isn’t your typical war movie.
Yes, it takes place during World War II, but there’s almost no fighting, virtually zero combat, centers on an American family, and takes place in Wisconsin.
And believe it or not, it’s pretty good.
“McCoy” is the true story of the Stirn family, who moved to Wisconsin so that the family’s patriarch Frank (Eric Stoltz) can do his part in the war effort. An irregular heartbeat keeps him from enlisting, so he does what he can: he cuts hair.
The Stirns move into a house next to a POW camp, which means only a rickety fence separates captured Nazis from Frank’s young children. The prisoners frequently escape and are found wandering the forest behind their home.
This troubles Frank’s wife Ruby (Kate Connor, who wrote the screenplay) to no end, but life as it is goes on.
A subplot in the film finds Ruby’s sister (Lyndsy Fonseca of “Kick Ass”) courting a soldier who is trying to get his travel vouchers straightened out.
“McCoy” is a slow burn. Frank’s issues are the most pronounced (he feels inadequate because he can’t fight, some of the soldiers look down on him because he has a German last name, and he worries that his wife will be attracted to the rugged boys in uniform that he services), but the rest of the family has them as well.
Things ramp up when a German soldier escapes the camp and makes his way to the Stirn home when only Ruby is home, leading to the film’s climax, which is perhaps a bit unlikely, but just crazy enough that it would be allowed to happen.
The acting is uniformly strong. Fonseca has the look of a star, Stoltz is the film’s unstable emotional center, and Connor and even the children are solid.
It’s also full of leisurely moments that capture the realities of life on an army base. Tensions are at times high with the prospect of men leaving and never returning (or if they do, they’re likely missing an appendage or are in a box).
“McCoy” is high on drama, light on melodrama.
The story is a personal one for Connor, who based her story on her mother’s family.It’s strengths are in depicting the family as a unit with neuroses beneath, and how precarious a balance it is when a man can’t join up in a time where men are expected to be men, when a virtually undetectable medical issue prevents him from joining.
“Fort McCoy” represents another strong, just-left-of-mainstream unheralded entry that film festivals are known for. This is the kind of film that unless you see it at a festival, you likely won’t be lucky enough to encounter it again, especially if you rent from one of those obnoxious vending machines they pass off as video stores nowadays.