Directed by: Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn
Premise: A documentary film about the Eisch family. Brian Eisch, a single father and a soldier in the United States Army, deploys to Afghanistan in 2010 and is discharged after a serious injury. He returns home and the filmmakers follow his family over the next decade.
What Works: Father Soldier Son is an ambitious documentary. It covers nearly a decade of material, documenting this military family as they cope with injury and loss and their children pass through adolescence. This is an impressive piece of editing; the picture was shot over a long period of time but the footage has been assembled into a lean 100 minutes and the filmmakers select moments that set up and pay off the story’s themes. The Eisch family are good documentary subjects. They don’t appear to play to the cameras and their testimonials come across honest without being unnecessarily dramatic. Father Soldier Son primarily centers upon Brian Eisch, the father of the family who incurred a crippling leg injury while deployed to Afghanistan. Eisch is dedicated to his family but also to his job and the filmmakers capture Eisch’s struggle to redefine his identity after he is discharged from the military. About halfway through the documentary, the narrative pivots to focus on Isaac, the family’s eldest son, as he approaches manhood and weighs his post-high school options. Taken together, Father Soldier Son is a vivid portrait of masculinity in American culture. The film makes evident the values and expectations that Eisch passes onto his sons and how those ideas influence the choices and possibilities of his son’s life. The military has an important place in this portrait of masculinity; it is part of this family’s tradition and militaristic values and mentalities are inextricable from them. That makes Father Soldier Son a fascinating portrait of the way a militarized culture perpetuates itself.
What Doesn’t: Father Soldier Son concludes in 2019 after one of Eisch’s sons has joined the military. The story feels a bit incomplete. The narrative is bookended with military service, beginning with the father’s deployment to Afghanistan and ending with the son’s enlistment, but Father Soldier Son feels as though it ends prematurely. The son admits to experiencing anxiety and depression but we never find out much more about that or whether he is going to Afghanistan. What this documentary presents is interesting and moving but the picture feels as though it gets out of its subject’s lives just before something significant is about to happen.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Father Soldier Son tells a expansive family story in perspicuous fashion. It assembles a decade worth of material into a single story while also allowing for moments of depth and reflection. Father Soldier Son warrants a follow up documentary that portrays the next generation of the Eisch family.
Episode: #826 (November 8, 2020)