PARK CITY Edet Belzberg's documentary, "The Recruiter," lived up to what Sundance audience members Friday said was an intimate and unbiased portrayal of one decorated Army recruiter and four of his recruits.
Formerly known as "An American Soldier," the newly named documentary begins by telling viewers that there is a recruiting crisis of "historic proportions" in order to maintain troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. From that point, Belzberg follows Sgt. 1st Class Clay Usie, a recruiter in his hometown of Houma, La.
A charismatic, energetic and wholly patriotic Usie declares right off that he doesn't have recruiting quotas and that he's only looking for those who want to serve. By all appearances, Usie would make a brilliant salesman in any arena, but his expertise is in connecting with young men and women who might be thinking the Army is right for them. Quite often he closes the deal.
Usie appears to be friendly, fatherly, brotherly, and even warm, toward his potential recruits. His pep talks are inspiring as he sticks with four teens in particular.
As Chris, 18, tries to pass a two-mile run test, Usie shouts things like, "I'm not going to let you fail," "I believe in you," "You're my brother now," "You refuse to quit" and "Don't give up on me!" Chris passed the test and in the next scene is shown signing on the dotted line to join the Army.
Belzberg plugs in the realities of war, that many of the young men and women dying in Iraq and Afghanistan come from small towns, just like Houma.
Elzberg turns the camera on parents for their opinions on their children joining the Army. She gains access to Army bases during training and shows the harsh conditions of what it's like after the four recruits join. At one point, viewers watch a young woman become incapacitated during a panic attack.
The film briefly focuses on the toll Usie's complete dedication to his job takes on his family. But by the end of "The Recruiter," we hear Usie say, "I have the worst job in America right now there's no doubt about it."Among the film's many facets that make it worth seeing, Belzberg takes viewers from the point of a potential marriage between recruit and the Army all the way to well after the four main recruits have joined and been deployed overseas. And there are many surprises along the way.