In War Story, Mark Jackson’s second feature following the critically acclaimed Without, “Catherine Keener‘s Lee is a veteran photojournalist, seeking refuge in Sicily mere days after being released from captivity by a faction, and from a place, which will remain largely unknown,” writes Ben Umstead at Twitch, “though perhaps if we pay close attention we will know the place as Libya…. She lacks sleep, a sense of time and place and self. Her nerves are shot. Her partner is dead. Lee holds up in her room, sleeping off bouts of destructive behavior, constantly haunted and tortured by horrors we never see, but feel and feel and feel.”
Eventually, Lee snaps “out of her funk to help young Hafsia (Hafsia Herzi), a pregnant refugee abandoned by a Tunisian trafficker who had promised to convey her to France,” writes Chris Michael in the Guardian. “Jackson and co-writer Kristin Gore, daughter of Al, are concerned to show us the dark side of the European immigrant experience. ‘Why do you think you know people you don’t?’ Hafsia asks Lee, an accusation you might level at the film itself, notwithstanding some cursory scenes of Keener hanging around with Arab men and black African prostitutes, all of whom remain unnamed. The ending more or less absolves the film of any real ‘sad white lady saves poor black girl, learns to live again’ culpability, but Jackson is wise to keep Keener’s pushy, desperate Lee in center focus.”
“Back in 2011,” writes Kim Voynar at Movie City News, “Without made my top ten list, and I wrote that Jackson was an upcoming director to watch. Three years later, he’s fulfilled the promise he showed with his first film, delivering a sophomore effort that’s even better, more assured than I could have hoped. Beautifully, stunningly shot by Reed Morano (Frozen River, Kill Your Darlings), one of my favorite cinematographers, and scored hauntingly with some gorgeous cello-centric composition by Dave Eggar, War Story is cinematic storytelling at its finest.”
But for the Playlist‘s Rodrigo Perez, War Story “turns into a turgidly self-serious drama of moping and grief that largely goes nowhere.” He gives it a D-.
Screen‘s Mark Adams: “War Story is a jagged and moody film, elegantly told but perhaps too mournful for its own good. But it is blessed with a suitably haunting and haunted performance by the ever-impressive Catherine Keener.”