Having worked for 12-plus years in one hellish war zone after another, Mark Walsh (Colin Farrell) is a highly respected photojournalist who's willing to go anywhere for a picture. It's 1988 and Mark is heading to the Middle East to follow a group of Kurd rebels fighting Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi forces, his similarly experienced friend and fellow photojournalist, David (Jamie Sives), going with him. Following Kurd forces and spending a lot of time at a triage unit in the field, Mark and David are both pushed to their limits, David deciding he's seen enough and wanting to get back to his pregnant wife. Mark decides to stay is seriously hurt while shooting a Kurd attack on an Iraqi fort. He remembers nothing and heads home weeks later only to find that David never arrived. What happened exactly? Where is his friend and why can't he remember the details of how he got there?
A straight-to-DVD release here in the U.S., Triage never quite adds up. From director Danis Tanovic, it clocks in at 99 minutes and while it covers a lot of ground, it bounces around far too much. It knows the tone it's going for, but it drifts and meanders in getting there. It was filmed in Spain (standing in for a fictional territory with the Kurd/Iraqi fighting) and Ireland (after Mark returns) and for lack of a better description, feels like a straight-to-DVD flick. It doesn't need a huge scale with a cast of hundreds, instead focusing on a handful of characters, and it's a wise decision. On the other hand, at just over 90 minutes, the story never picked up any momentum, and I was less than intrigued as it developed. You stick with it to get an answer, to discover what happened, but getting there is far from fun to the point of being dull.
Sporting long hair and a variety of facial hair (my favorite was the quasi-Hitler mustache), Farrell is solid but maybe a little too underplayed here as Mark, the tortured photojournalist struggling to find the answers and cope with everything he's seen. It's a part without a whole lot of energy which reflects Mark's general state of mind, but a little energy, a little fire would have gone a long way. It isn't a bad performance, but Farrell has done better.Late in the flick as revelations come to light, Farrell is called on to emote some, but it feels funny, even forced.
The rest of the cast ranges from pretty good to pretty bad. Paz Vega is shrill as Elena, Mark's worrying girlfriend back in Ireland. Her part consists of her asking if he's all right, looking worried about his answer, and then ultimately finding a solution that in itself feels pretty odd. Sives as David is interesting but nothing comes of it. His whole purpose after introduction is to be homesick so pretty one-note, Kelly Reilly playing his very pregnant wife, Diane. Branko Djuric is the best thing going here by far as Dr. Talzani, a doctor working with the Kurds who is forced to make horrific decisions everyday about how to treat his patients. Through Mark and his pictures, we get to know Talzani better than any other character here. Rounding out the cast is Christopher Lee as Jose, Elena's grandfather, a doctor who has a history of working with former war criminals, getting them to admit to what they've done. It's a strategy he tries with Mark as well.
There are parts that work here. Following Mark embedded with the Kurd fighters, we get a real sense of what the fighting was like, the toll it would take on both the fighters and the photojournalists. You can only see so much before it completely rips away who you are. Seeing Dr. Talzani at work is unsettling and brutal, and his conversations with Mark provide some very good moments. The same for the later scenes with Mark and Jose, Mark finally realizing what happened to himself, David and what drove them there. The ending isn't nearly as shocking as it tries to be. Effective? Yes, but not an Earth-swelling finale, just a good one.
Triage (2009): **/****