Glover film highlights Iraq war vets’ struggles

In recent years, Danny Glover has used his formidable acting chops and Hollywood connections to boost a series of independent films that might otherwise have struggled to find an audience. Glover is now starring in one, “The Drummer.” 

It’s a low-budget feature film co-written by Eric Worthman and Jessica Gohlke, who also serve as director and producer respectively. “The Drummer” tells the interlinked story of three soldiers who enlisted in the U.S. Army, became combat veterans in Iraq, and then tried to avoid being sent back to the same disastrous George Bush-initiated conflict.

All find their way to the Watertown, N.Y. office of Mark Walker, a lawyer, Vietnam veteran, and anti-war activist played by Glover. Walker has joined forces with a younger generation of dissidents in Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and opened an internet café near Fort Drum called  “The Drummer.” 

The cafe is Walker’s post-9/11 attempt to recreate the atmosphere of GI movement coffee houses located near military bases in the Vietnam era that welcomed and supported restive draftees like Walker himself.

A different generation

Unfortunately, as Walker acknowledges, “this is 2008, not 1968.” The all-volunteer army recruits who become his clients lack a mass anti-war movement to provide greater solidarity and political context for their personal decisions to go AWOL and/or seek conscientious objector status. 

Mike Tanaka, a Japanese-American soldier played by Daniel Isaac, is profusely grateful when Walker helps him navigate a “sanity hearing” with Army shrinks, which is necessary to secure an honorable discharge. But, with that legal hurdle overcome, Tanaka is on the next bus out of town and unavailable for any press event about his case. 

“I’m trying to build a soldiers anti-war movement,” Walker complains after this rebuff. “They need to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

He counts heads at a peace march and a smaller gathering at a Catholic retreat center, only to find too many of the usual suspects, gray-haired and earnest as always. “Resistance is all I have left,” he confides. By the end of this dark and moving film, The Drummer is closing up shop. 

“The Drummer” stands in sharp contrast to the usual Hollywood action film dreck in which fictional veterans respond to the world of hurt they find themselves in by firing back at foreign and domestic enemies of all types while on bloody missions of salvation or revenge.

The quieter focus of this film is the lasting physical and psychological impact of military service under post-9/11 conditions. As Glover told the press in July, the fact “that there are even more veteran suicides than U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq makes the film more timely than ever.”

Now available on major streaming platforms, “The Drummer” is definitely worth watching.

Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon write about veterans and war.