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War changes you, that is understood, especially in movies when those who come back from it find themselves caught between the worlds they left behind and the haunts of their time in action. Sometimes though, the hardest battles are fought nowhere near the war and no matter the trauma and scars of time in conflict, the deeper wounds lie most with choices made at home.
Nelson Sanchez (Victor Almanzar) flies back from Afghanistan in silence, his somber face cast in shades of burden. He arrives in his hometown of Newburgh, New York earlier than expected, ruining his big sister Angie’s (Elizabeth Rodriguez) plans for a party, but slips out and drops in on his longtime girlfriend Livvy (Shirley Rumierk) for some much-needed attention before coming back and dutifully acting surprised. Word spreads though that he’s in town, some from his former drug running gang and some from rivals who are looking to settle an old score.
Directed by Ari Issler and Ben Snyder (and co-written by Almanzar), 11:55 is in many ways a familiar story with a troubled soldier changed by his experiences and unsure how to replant himself in old soil. The twist here is that this soldier joined the Marines to run from a crime he committed back home, shooting a gang leader’s brother. That leader is Nikky Quinn (Mike Carlsen) and when he learns Sanchez is back, leaves his pregnant wife (Julia Stiles in a blink or you’ll miss it role) in the city to hunt him down. This sets up the plot as his bus arrives five minutes to midnight, and if you feel something familiar about that, that’s because the movie makes no qualms in homaging Gary Cooper‘s classic 1955 Western High Noon. Just look at the title.
Led by several genuinely impactful performances including Rodriguez, who is a powder keg of truth, Almanzar is riveting in the lead, a stoic, no-nonsense man who has learned in the military that there is no more running. He is honestly tormented by the pain he’s caused and the choices he’s made and as the hours pass before Nikky arrives, he combs the village looking for answers, calling upon his old gang, who refuses to stand with him. Even vets at the nearby VA turn away, though only the disabled, wheelchair-bound Berto (a jarringly-good John Leguizamo) has the passion for it, although he can’t. An old mentor (David Zayas) gives the best advice he can when even he rejects a plea for help: “You’ll know what to do.”
There isn’t a lot here that’s new, yet Issler and Snyder do it justice, keeping the movie tightly compressed, the little world occupied only by the players in the game. The real Newburgh is the setting and is as much a character as anyone else, its graffiti-laced streets a menacing presence over the whole affair. A big digital clock ticks down the time and the moments between are often shadowed in cliché but purposefully so, the filmmakers understanding that the trappings of the genre bind them so it’s better to embrace rather than avoid them. Committed to that, they craft a solid, if short, story unnervingly taut and unflinchingly raw. The little wars at home in the streets of real America continue to be fought.
Movie description: 11:55 is a 2017 drama about a returning US Marine who finds himself trapped by the past tried to escape.
Director(s): Ari Issler, Ben Snyder
Actor(s): Victor Almanzar, Shirley Rumierk, Elizabeth Rodriguez