‘Encounter’ review: Cary Fukunaga and Riz Ahmed look at PTSD, the future of US military

Written by Daniel Carey, CNN, Contributors

British actor Riz Ahmed and director Cary Fukunaga sat down to talk about their period drama “Encounter,” which goes on Netflix today, and screened at a screening in New York. “Encounter” is their latest collaboration after working together on Netflix original series “Godless” last year, in which Riz acted as an executive producer.

This time Riz plays Sergeant Ellis Carey, who joins up with the British Army in the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

But while Carey is an exceptional soldier, his home life is tumultuous. He tries desperately to be with his boys (played by six-year-old Nicholas and Nicolas Knight) in San Diego but is met with indifference from his ex-wife, Rebecca (Emily Mortimer). Carey also struggles to cope with his terminal illness, in a story partly based on my own family and the fact that my wife is a primary caregiver to a father who has terminal cancer.

Working closely with Riz over the course of a year, I got to know him, not only as an actor but also as a charming, intelligent and soft-spoken man. Our dialogue was largely improvised and we did most of the performances on set, which created an atmosphere of aliveness and intimacy between the cast and crew. I like to think that ‘Encounter’ will have an impact on viewers the same way “Godless” did for so many of its critics.

In preparing for the part of Ellis, Riz wanted to see what it would be like to come home and face his predicament. He spoke to a lot of first responders and the family and friends of men who had come home wounded. He found so much empathy that when I had the character’s wife and boys come home for the first time, Riz had tears streaming down his face.

After he showed me these pictures of violence, he said he wanted to portray a kinder, gentler version of American soldiers who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. With an added complexity, this version of the Marine is not interested in killing. Instead, he shows compassion for those the military may consider different.

“Encounter” is set in San Diego in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Credit: courtesy of Amazon Originals

Filming the extraordinary final episode of “Godless” in the Snowdonia National Park in Wales was equally inspiring. The episode itself was inspired by John Ford’s famed 1943 film “The Grapes of Wrath,” set in Kansas.

In that film, the migrants arrive in this poverty-stricken community at the end of World War II. Francis Ford Coppola used to call it his “Vagrant Bible” for its depiction of outsiders in white-dominated America.

“Encounter” is inspired by the same tradition. The writers experienced during the shooting of the episode there, a difficult “Godless” finale as more than half of the main characters were killed off.

It was a “physical hell” and the last scene was particularly challenging to shoot. We shot from a helicopter and a team of experts had to put a forklift on top of it to put about 25 kilos (55 pounds) of mangled, twisted metal on the top of the helicopter to dismantle it. We all fought our hearts out to deliver a film that carries the weight of family tragedy and resilience.

Encounter: The story of Marine Sgt. Ellis Carey

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