From House of Cards writer Bill Cain and The Shark is Broken director Guy Masterson, 9 Circles is a brilliantly performed, harrowing psychological thriller that would be shocking as a work of fiction.That it is based on the real-life story of Steven Dale Green, a repatriated US Army Private accused of war crimes, makes it all the more shocking and distressing.
A brilliantly performed harrowing psychological thriller
Conceptually based on Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell, Private Daniel Reeves (Joshua Collins) is a conscript to the army who would never have passed the normal entry requirements given his previous convictions in his home town of Midland Texas, but the US is desperate for soldiers to serve in Iraq. Military training has successfully turned this teenager from the middle of nowhere into a coldblooded killing machine with unquestioning devotion to his oath of allegiance. For him, everyone is the enemy and he would kill them all if he had his way, including civilian men, women and children. Any sense of humanity, morality, and right and wrong with which he entered into service has been rapidly eroded. Now he finds himself facing discharge from the company to which he is devoted and subsequently a trial for a string of appalling war crimes that he can hardly comprehend. He is trapped in the progression of circles that will determine his ultimate fate.
Collins gives a stunning, tightly focussed performance. He captures the militarily drilled persona of Reeves, a young man in an alien world that he barely understands, given to simplistic interpretations of circumstances; handling them with no-nonsense if often misguided directness. “A personality disorder can be an advantage in certain circumstances”, he says. But while it might provide some insight into the awkward logic he espouses it won’t be enough to save him, despite the efforts of others. Daniel Bowerbank appears with militaristic precision as the Lieutenant who sets the scene for what is to follow and later appears as the Pastor who out of his own troubled past attempts to bring comfort and salvation to Reeves. Samara Neely Cohen as the Female Lawyer, Shrink and Prosecution creates three distinct roles that illustrate some of the forces that come to bear on Reeves; the stern, the sympathetic and the aggressive. Completing the cast, David Calvitto gives two equally impassioned performances in which he encapsulates the legal mind and the manner of traditional courtroom delivery as the Army Attorney and Civilian Lawyer. Between them, they highlight the conundrums, contradictions and hypocrisies of war.
Credit has to be given to the rest of the team: Set Design by Duncan Henderson; Lighting design by Tom Turner; Sound & Composition by Jack Arnold and Movement by Mark Baldwin OBE. Between them, they provide the setting for 9 Circles which is stunning in its haunting simplicity. A mood of inescapable impending tragedy is created as Reeves is encircled in rings of light that trap him as certainly as the events themselves.
Although we are reminded many times of the brutally mortal acts Reeves committed, seen through his eyes it’s difficult not to feel a degree of sympathy for the boy who left life in the desert oilfields of Texas to greet death in the desert oilfields of Iraq.