Interview: Aidan Quinn and Michael Connors Talk 'Allegiance,' Written by: Karen Benardello
The most successful military thrillers often thrive on incorporating stunning visual effects, aided by a large budget, that make up for the lack of developed characters and heartfelt, personal plotlines. But the new military thriller 'Allegiance,' which marks the feature film writing and directorial debut of Michael Connors, an American veteran, emotionally focused instead on the motivations of the lead characters, and how they're driven by their own personal guilt. The soldiers in the film, which is now available on VOD and currently has a limited theatrical engagement in New York, and will expand to theaters in LA and Austin this week, strive to do what's best for their country, while also contending with feelings of doubt of what they're doing is morally right.
'Allegiance' follows the effect the increasing violence the Iraq War is having on thousands of American National Guard soldiers, who have been called to active service with orders to deploy during the fall of 2004. Lieutenant Danny Sefton (played by Seth Gabel), a Wall Street trader, works part-time as an Army officer in the New York National Guard. When his unit is organized to report to duty to one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq, Sefton uses his father's influence to receive a questionable transfer that will keep him safely stationed at home. He voluntarily stays on the base to help his unit get ready for their deployment, bearing the brunt of their resentment for not deploying with them in the process.
Specialist Reyes (portrayed by Bow Wow), meanwhile, who is the unit's best medic, is denied a compassionate reassignment to stay home with his wife and their terminally ill son. He asks Sefton, the unit's executive officer, to find a way to help him stay home as well. Feeling the guilt of not deploying with his unit, Sefton puts his own future at risk by coming up with a plan to help Reyes escape the base and reunite with his son. In the process, Sefton must make the difficult decision between his loyalties to Reyes, his unit and his fiancée, Leela (played by Reshma Shetty), as he ends up entangled in the dangerous last minute escape attempt, in defiance of Lieutenant Colonel Owens (portrayed by Aidan Quinn).
Connors and Quinn generously took the time recently to discuss over the phone what it was like filming the independent military thriller together on a small budget. Among other things, the two spoke about the movie's realistic portrayal of the everyday difficulties soldiers face, and military life overall; the positive reactions they have been receiving from audiences, particularly soldiers, at screenings of the film; and the close, work-oriented working relationship they developed before and during the shooting of 'Allegiance.'
Question (Q): Aidan, you play Lieutenant Colonel Owens in 'Allegiance.' What was it about the script and the character that convinced you to take on the role?
Aidan Quinn (AQ): I loved the script and the character and the questions it brings up. I liked the taunt thriller aspect to it. I thought there were wonderful roles and actors in it.
Q: 'Allegiance' is being described as a very personal story that Michael wrote about his own experiences in the Army. Do you think the film shows a realistic view of the military life overall?
AQ: Yes, it shows the moral struggles. It shows the honorable thing to do when a young man has a situation where his young boy is dying, and he's expecting a compassionate leave. But there are intense pressures to send back men and women who had completed tours; the amount of people we have engaged in those countries is dwindling, and it's a tough decision for the commanders and unit.
Q: 'Allegiance' was mainly produced and financed almost entirely by veterans. Did you both speak to the producers about their experiences in the military while you were filming?
AQ: Yes, I was there for a very, very long day of shooting. Some of the producers were there, but there wasn't a long amount of time to chit-chat.
Q: Have you screened 'Allegiance' to American veterans yet, and if so, what types of reactions have you been receiving?
Michael Connors (MC): Well, when we premiered in Seattle (at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival), we had a number of friends and ex-military come see it, as well as when we screened it in Austin (at the 2012 Austin Film Festival). I had a couple of friends who I served with who came out. The interesting thing is, I screened it for a number of guys who I served with of different persuasions-guys who supported the war, and guys who didn't support the war. Everyone has been engaged in the movie, and have really responded well, in terms of this is the way it really goes.
One of the most interesting things I think about the film is that it's not about Special Forces and young guys who are highly trained and motivated; these are regular weekend guys, who are put in an almost impossible situation. It makes for a much more dramatic scenario than what we see in most military movies.
Some people who have seen it, including a couple investors who knew my Dad, who are Vietnam vets, aren't the most liberal guys in the world. But they really enjoyed this movie and appreciated it. Then I had a couple of film school professors at Columbia who aren't the most conservative guys see it, and they also appreciated it. This movie is about the complexities and sacrifices about going to war.
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