Editor’s Notes: Michael Jorgensen’
For years in the United States, we were the victors. The veterans of World War I, or the Great War if your super old grandfather is still kicking, and World War II are celebrated. WWII had the ultimate villain, one of universal despise that would continue to fill the role of villainy in countless films. The Vietnam War was another creature entirely. It was a time of outspoken resistance. People spoke up for their distaste in the US’s involvement. With a nation divided, the veteran was the unfortunate casualty. Celebrations were replaced by protest and the hardships of war were worn as blemishes. The face of the returning veteran was one of grief, but what of the soldier that never made it back? Unclaimed hopes to offer a voice to the lost, although it occasionally loses it in all that it is trying to say.
The face of the returning veteran was one of grief, but what of the soldier that never made it back? Unclaimed hopes to offer a voice to the lost, although it occasionally loses it in all that it is trying to say.
Tom Faunce is a Vietnam veteran. After serving 27 months, he returned a broken man. Lost and wandering the land, he found relief in religion. Now with a calling, he sets out with purpose, spreading the good word and helping wherever he can. While acting as a missionary in Vietnam he hears of an old man who claims to be a forgotten soldier of the United States. The man asserts that he is John Hartley Robertson, a man lost during a military mission gone south. Despite claims that the trauma led to his limited memory and complete inability to communicate in the English language, something about the man’s character strikes a chord with Faunce. Over the course of several years, Faunce sets out to discover the man that was John Hartley Robertson.
At only 77 minutes, Unclaimed is certainly on the shorter side of feature length. While it is limited in its time with the viewer, it certainly does not hesitate in attempting to make several people its main subject. Where most films adhere to a standard three act structure, Unclaimed seems unsure of how to handle this, so it simply switches focus when it grows tired of chronicling its prior center. By the time it makes its second and final shift, it is really grasping at straws. It cannot help but to lose steam and just kind of collapse at the finishing line.
Tom Faunce’s story is the initial focus. His post-Vietnam experience is what stereotypes are made of, but perhaps those stereotypes exist for a reason. He is able to channel his mental distress into goodwill and an entire film could potentially be made chronicling his story and subsequent world crossing tour of help. Nevertheless, the film’s director Michael Jorgensen moves on as soon as he believes you know enough about Faunce. The subject drifts into the background and devolves into little more than a tool for our introduction to John Hartley Robertson. Robertson becomes the film’s biggest difficulty. His claims seem outlandish and there is an immediate barrier between him and the audience. In an attempt to bridge the gap, we are offered an outline of the covert Vietnam events. This has the opposite effect and simply leaves you yearning for a more exciting film about the many veterans involved in these undercover missions. By the time the true Robertson’s fate is described, the existence of this survivor is made all the more perplexing.
Robertson is the ultimate in an unreliable narrator. The story is built on a foundation of suggestions. As soon as anyone offers up a morsel of truth, he latches onto it, itching for legitimacy.
Robertson is the ultimate in an unreliable narrator. The story is built on a foundation of suggestions. As soon as anyone offers up a morsel of truth, he latches onto it, itching for legitimacy. Jorgensen may never come out and state his belief, but it would be hard to think that he does not see this man as the real Robertson. The government’s ineptitude is explained in a series of inserts; however no officials offer insight on camera. The absence of governmental input, past secondary sources, highlights the shallow nature of the film. There is a story here, and assuredly there is a potential for a mishandling of the many men labeled as MIA, but opinions too readily invade where facts are required.
While the film is largely mishandled with a scattered focus and exceedingly one-sided representation it manages to wring every morsel of emotionality out of the proceedings. The final bits in which Robertson is “reunited” with his family work regardless of your decision about his honesty. This man may not be the real John Hartley Robertson, but that really isn’t the point. The government is concerned with the legitimacy of the man’s claims but the family is merely looking for closure. Truth may not be the most important thing when it comes to emotions, and the facts dissolve into intrusions. As the film closes, Jorgensen finally returns us to our original subject, Tom Faunce. He quietly exits the gathering of tearful family members and sets out to continue to spread his help around the world. Faunce may not have found a long missing man, but he has brought happiness to many. Unclaimed is much like its missionary hero, far more concerned with feelings than facts. It all ends like an episode of television, resolved quickly with little worry over the many dangling threads. It may not be great documentary filmmaking, but it sure does know how to reach your heart.
[notification type=”star”]60/100 ~ OKAY. Unclaimed is much like its missionary hero, far more concerned with feelings than facts. It all ends like an episode of television, resolved quickly with little worry over the many dangling threads. It may not be great documentary filmmaking, but it sure does know how to reach your heart.