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In 'Wartorn,' war is always hell

THE DOCUMENTARY "Wartorn: 1861-2010"

WHEN | WHERE Thursday night at 9 on HBO

REASON TO WATCH Powerful Veterans Day documentary on post-traumatic stress disorder.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Correspondent and producer, James Gandolfini explores the crippling emotional trauma of battle fatigue. Suicide rates among active military are rising, according to this 75-minute film, directed by Jon Alpert. This particularly dark and harrowing look into the minds of vets seeks to explain why. These vets speak of recurring nightmares, sleeplessness and images that are permanently fixed in their minds; some have unfathomable guilt, too.

Gandolfini interviews many of these men or their devastated families, but most often he is a silent witness. There are many profiles here - including World War II veterans who speak on-camera of psychic wounds that have lingered six decades - and closes with Pfc. William Fraas Jr., who says, "I've seen humanity at its worst. And I struggle with that on a daily basis."

MY SAY It probably bears pointing out that "Wartorn" isn't the indulgence of some Hollywood bigshot and his latest pet cause or crusade. Gandolfini is barely on film - maybe a minute, total - and when he asks a question, it almost comes out as a disinterested grunt. He's a nearly invisible presence, overwhelmed - or reduced - by the stories these men tell. There is nothing in this film that feels frivolous or out of place, and Gandolfini had the good sense to stand down - even though you suspect HBO wanted him to stand a little more front and center, if only to get you to watch.

In fact, "Wartorn" is a difficult film to watch. It demands an emotional level of engagement from viewers. But Thursday is Veterans Day. These are the people who fought for their country, survived and now can't quite shake the demons that hound them day and (mostly) night. Once engaged, you won't easily shake their stories, or this film. You probably won't want to.

BOTTOM LINE Uniformly excellent - although some additional reporting devoted to the treatment of PTSD would have made this a more complete package.


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