G.I. Jesus begins as Jesus Feliciano (Joe Arquette) returns to his wife (Patricia Mota) and daughter (Telana Lynum) after service in Iraq. Physically he is fine, but mentally and emotionally there are problems. For one thing, he shot two civilians, a father and daughter, during his deployment. The Iraqi father (Maurizo Farhad) turns up periodically as a ghost only Feliciano can see, and he is a rather bitter phantasm, not at all pleased that the man who killed him is happily living with his own child while he and his daughter remain "casualties of war." Because this apparition is invisible to others, Feliciano's friends and family think Jesus has lost his marbles when they see him speaking to an unobservable entity--straining relationships all around, particularly with his beautiful if increasingly confused wife.
Writer-director Carl Colpaert brushes past the most interesting aspect of his own film--the need for an immigrant to participate in an ugly war to ensure citizenship--to take potshots at what appear to be some of the most blatant American transgressions associated with the current conflict. These include murdering civilians, corrupt officers, corporate exploitation of warfare, enlistment of children into the armed services, and the moral and spiritual breakdown of soldiers. It is as if Colpaert began by wanting to tell to what lengths immigrants will go to become American citizens but became completely distracted assessing the many drawbacks of our involvement in Iraq.
Alas, although Arquette is a winning and sympathetic protagonist, much of the film is preaching to the converted. It is unlikely that audiences will change their attitudes, either pro or con, after seeing G.I. Jesus. It is obvious from the opening scenes that Colpaert regards the Iraq war as an even more flagrant mistake than Vietnam. The protagonist is more troubled by the broken promises of the Marine Corps to himself than the broader issues of this unpopular war.
As his troubled marriage dissolves before our eyes, it is sad to see how much soldiers and soldiers' families are forced to sacrifice. At the same time, there are indications that neither this husband nor his wife truly understand each other. Only the child, a feisty little lady in the tradition of Abigail Breslin, brings clarity as well as reality to the family psychodynamics.
G.I. Jesus offers two endings, neither one illuminating. In addition, Colpaert's use of improvisation is not particularly helpful--several crucial scenes lose focus because the actors do little more than repeat themselves ad nauseam. Still, Colpaert's angry indictment of the corruption of America in its present circumstances rings loud and clear.