Allegiance, the new Iraq war military drama starring Aidan Quinn, is the hard hitting debut feature by Irish American director Mike Connors and producers Sean Mullin, John Boyle and John O'Neil. Cahir O'Doherty talks to Connors and Quinn about the film’s controversial theme -- what happens when a soldier is forced to choose between his loyalties to a deserting soldier, his unit and his fiancée?
The real truth about the Iraq war is that soldiers deployed there, depending on the post, had good reason to believe they would not be coming home -- in anything other than a box, that is. The chaos and terrorism that engulfed the region made it a theater of war unlike anything the U.S. military had ever encountered before.
Back in 2004, when the conflict was at its height, to be posted to hot spots like Sadr City (a suburb district of the city of Baghdad) meant almost certain death. That’s the high stakes backdrop to Allegiance, the hard-hitting new military drama starring Aidan Quinn and directed by talented newcomer Mike Connors.
The film follows Lieutenant Danny Sefton (played by Seth Gabel) who, though his father’s powerful connections in Albany, has wrangled a reassignment preventing him from deploying to Iraq with the rest of his National Guard unit. It’s the ordinary grunts, the film gently reminds us, who are out of luck.
But Sefton’s conscience is deeply troubled when medic Chris Reyes (played by rapper Bow Wow) is torn from the bedside of his terminally ill son, to be deployed to Iraq by Colonel Owen (Quinn) despite repeated assurances that he would not be.
As moral quandaries go, this one is fairly clear-cut. Sefton has to decide where his loyalties lie -- to his unit or to his colonel -- and he has to decide who needs Reyes more, the Army or his dying child?
What follows is a gripping military drama, steeped in its attitudes and traditions, that asks hard questions about the Iraq war and its consequences in the everyday lives of the soldiers who fought it (often through deployment after deployment).
Irish American writer and director Connors, hailing from a military family himself, knows the army life and the issues that arise in it better than most. Not only did he write and direct, but most of his army buddies also played major roles in bringing Allegiance to the big screen.
“The veterans who financed the movie were young guys like me,” Connors, whose grandparents hailed from Sligo, tells the Irish Voice.
“Our main executive producer is John Boyle and his parents were immigrants from Ireland, he went to West Point where he was in the class of 1998. I met him through my other Irish West Point friend Brian Reidy. They both helped me from a financial point get the movie off the ground [they’re both traders and bankers] bringing in other investors.”
Connors, an ex-Ranger, has a father who is also a West Point graduate who brought his Vietnam era friends in as investors. This lead to Navy SEALs and Green Berets taking control of the training sequences in the film, so you can be assured it’s as close to real military life as is possible.
After receiving a BA from Harvard University in 1997, Connors was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant and completed four years in both the active service and the New York National Guard before enrolling in Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program.
“The main kernel of the story was based on my personal experience. I was on active duty from 1997 to 2001. I got out in September 2001, I moved to New York City and started film school,” Connors says.
“Two weeks before 9/11 I was a newly minted civilian. So I wondered what would happen now? Would I get called back in? The military changed overnight.”
The thing is, there weren’t a lot of call-ups between 2001 to 2004 because Afghanistan was still the focus of special operations. That all changed when the Iraq war was declared, though. Connors was still on the reserve list and he got called back in 2005, just as he was finishing film school.
“I had orders to go to Iraq for two years. I hadn’t put on a uniform in two years and I was not a supporter of the war. But I had all these friends who were going. I got pulled in a lot of different directions,” he recalls.
The push and pull of his divided loyalties proved inspirational. “I went through the whole process of mentally preparing myself and then suddenly they announced they didn’t need me anymore. Political pressure about a backdoor draft made them call it off,” Connors says.
“I felt guilt over lucking out when a lot of my friends were returning for their second or third tour. That was the impetus behind the film.”
It turns out that it’s not as easy as you think to say no to a war you don’t support when you have family and friends in the ring.
“My last couple of months of commitment were spent in the New York National Guard. It was my introduction to this weekend warrior culture, having come from a situation where I had been in it every day,” Connors says.