In ‘Amira & Sam,’ Society—Not the Veteran—Is Crazy
Writer-director Sean Mullin challenges the wounded warrior narrative
Sam has only been home for a few months when his cousin Charlie invites him to a party. Charlie lives in Manhattan and works for a Wall Street hedge fund. Sam’s been in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past several years, and now lives on Staten Island.
The Wall Street types act like it’s a fraternity party. Sam is uncomfortable and under-dressed. Charlie pulls him into a circle of guys and tells them Sam’s a veteran.
They’re impressed. “No joke, on Sept. 12th,” one of them says. “We were all down at the armory. We were this close to signing up.”
“Why didn’t you?” Sam asks, and the others look away.
“What was the craziest thing you saw over there?” another asks, changing the subject.
After some back and forth, Sam tells them a story about coming back from patrol in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province, catching his roommate with his pants around his ankles in flagrante delicto … with himself.
“He was still wearing his helmet,” Sam says. The hedge-funders laugh.
This is Amira & Sam, a new film from writer-director Sean Mullin. It takes place in 2008, as a soldier returns from war to discover that the country he loves has gone insane.
“It’s the scene that’s resonated most strongly with veterans,” Mullin tells me, referring to the party. “Countless vets have … said, ‘Oh my god, that exact scene has happened to me.’”
It’s one of the best moments in a stellar film, and it’s based on Mullin’s personal experience. “My friends would come home from war and I’d go out with them and this stuff would happen,” he says.
“The actual story of [Sam] walking in on the guy … that’s something that happened to me at West Point,” Mullin, who graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1997, explains.
On its surface, Amira & Sam is a simple romantic comedy. Sam returns to New York after years in the military and falls in love with Amira. She’s an Iraqi immigrant, the niece of an interpreter Sam befriended during the war.
But this outsider love story is only half the film, the backbone of the movie is about a soldier coming home to find he no longer understands the country he left behind.
It’s an inversion of the popular trope of a wounded, victimized soldier returning from war and suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the film, Sam was a Green Beret. He’s seen war and all its horrors, yet he’s well adjusted. Both his mind and his body are intact. “I wanted to look at a soldier who’s fine, but the country is reeling from trauma,” Mullin explains.
“There’s this narrative that every vet’s a loose cannon and that’s not true. It’s a dangerous perception.”
Mullin is in a position to challenge that perception. “I served in peacetime Germany in the late ’90s and finished my time in the New York Army National Guard. I was a first responder on Sept. 11. I spent a year at ground zero. I was an officer in charge of soldiers there.”
Mullin worked at ground zero during the day and performed stand-up comedy at night. He had a front row seat to America’s descent into paranoia. Many of these personal experiences went into his script.
In the film, Sam is also an aspiring stand-up comedian. His cousin Charlie wants to talk about bringing him into the hedge fund. Another vet he meets wants to rehash the past. Sam just wants to tell dirty jokes about penguins.
Charlie is the film’s antagonist. He wants to exploit his connection to Sam to make cash off millionaire veteran investors. His reasoning is that the vets will listen to his pitch if Sam is in the room.
It’s a proposition Sam isn’t comfortable with, especially when he learns the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating his cousin. The film takes place in 2008, just before the financial crisis shattered Americans’ trust in Wall Street.
“You were lucky enough to be part of that one percent that served the nation, right?” Charlie explains. “So I’m giving you an opportunity to be part of the one percent that runs the nation.”
America’s outright exploitation of veterans and their experience is a theme running through Amira & Sam. The scenes between Sam and his cousin highlight the disconnect between veterans and those who never served—and the ease with which the latter condescend to the former.
“The only way to bridge this military civilian divide … is to get to know vets better and the only way to get to know vets better is to get to know all types of vets,” Mullin explains.
Amira & Sam helps to start that conversation. It’s about love, coming home and finding your place. It’s about the people who think they understand veterans when all they really understand is what soldiers can give them.
Mullin and his crew have crafted something rare and special—an honest and positive movie about a returning soldier.