Film Review: Allegiance

Set in late 2004, shortly after President Bush began sending National Guard units to support military troops in Iraq, the indie drama <i> Allegiance </i>stands to fight an uphill battle against heavily promoted end-of-year features.
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October, 2004: Like the rest of Alpha Company 1-27, Lieutenant Danny Sefton (Seth Gabel, of TV's “Fringe”) reports to New York's Camp Sullivan, from which they're going to be redeployed to Iraq for 18 months as support for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Sadr City. But unlike the others, Sefton—a politician's son with an Ivy league degree and a lucrative Wall Street gig—isn't going overseas. He's been transferred to a cushy public-relations position and his fiancée, Leela Rai (Reshma Shetty), will be picking him up at eight a.m. tomorrow…the same time his buddies will be shipping out.

Make that former buddies…most of them pretty pissed that they're all going back, even Specialist Chris Reyes (rapper Shad "Bow Wow" Moss), an FDNY medic whose compassionate leave has been cancelled even though his little boy is dying of lung cancer; Reyes' family, unlike Sefton's, doesn't have the juice to pull any high-level strings. And the icing on the cake is that Sefton's replacement, combat veteran Lieutenant Alec Chambers (Pablo Schreiber), is a real hard-ass. Wounded during a previous tour of duty, he resigned his commission only to be recalled; he stepped up and won't be cutting anyone else any slack.

Reyes is nonetheless planning to go AWOL, and wants Sefton's help. But the stakes are higher than he realizes: Because Alpha Company is about to ship out to a combat zone, Reyes won't just be absent without leave. He'll be a full-fledged deserter, and that means dishonorable discharge, imprisonment and more, not only for Reyes but for anyone who helps him.

Allegiance began life as the short "Recalled," writer-director Michael Connors' Columbia University thesis project. A former Ranger who has said a subordinate once asked him for help in going AWOL, Connors subsequently expanded and deepened the project into a feature-length exploration of conflicting allegiances—to country, friends, conscience, duty, family, ideals and comrades in arms. To his credit, Connors is prepared to take it from both sides: He both respects the military and is sympathetic to the "backdoor draftees," whose one-weekend-a-month, home-front obligation to the National Guard turns into 18 months of active military duty overseas.

Allegiance's commitment to shades of gray translates into excellent opportunities for its cast, and to a man (Shetty is the only woman in the cast, and she's relegated to the opening and closing scenes) they take full advantage, from veteran Aidan Quinn as Lt. Colonel Owens, who's tasked with overseeing the transformation of National Guardsmen into foot soldiers who stand some chance of surviving the rigors of desert combat, to newcomer Jason Lew as battalion supply sergeant Kraft, a modern-day Sergeant Bilko.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this review erroneously stated that writer-director Michael Connors had been redeployed to Iraq.