Review: 'Father Solider Son' tells poignant story of military, family, duty

Emotional Netflix documentary follows father as he returns from war in Afghanistan

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

When Sgt. First Class Brian Eisch returns home from his deployment in Afghanistan he receives a hero's welcome.

At his airport gate, his young sons rush to him and grip him tight. Pedestrians nearby break into spontaneous applause. Tears flow. It's a heartwarming scene. 

Brian Eisch with his sons Isaac (left) and Joey in "Father Soldier Son."

Filmmakers Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn could have had no idea what would come next. They stick with the Eisch family for a number of years and capture a story of grief and loss, love and legacy, which unfolds with a number of unforeseeable twists.

Such is life, and "Father Soldier Son" takes viewers on an emotional journey that hits home on multiple fronts. It is not soon forgotten. 

When we first meet Eisch's sons, 12-year-old Isaac and 7-year-old Joey, they look up to their father like he's Captain America in the flesh. Their mother is out of the picture — she hasn't seen the kids in more than two years, Brian explains — and their father is everything to them.

Still, young Isaac, who speaks with a wisdom beyond his years, sees the toll that military life has taken on his father and the stress it has put on their family. As much as he admires his father, he isn't sure he wants to follow in his footsteps, he explains. 

Brian returns to combat but catches a bullet in his leg and is sent home. Flash forward a couple of years and we see what the wound has done to him: he's gained weight due to immobility, and he's withdrawn mentally due to his lack of purpose outside of his military life. "I'm not mission-capable anymore," he says, defining his existence in military terminology. 

His leg, meanwhile, hasn't healed and he's forced to amputate. He does his best to remain optimistic but his family, including his new girlfriend Maria, watches as he drifts further into mental lapse by falling into hours-long sessions playing war-themed video games. 

His boys, meanwhile, are growing up, and he works hard to instill in them a rugged mental toughness. Isaac, now nearing high school graduation, wants to go to college, but he might not have the grades to get him there. His dad bets him he'll end up in the military, almost daring him. Isaac's actions and his decisions become heightened when the Eisch family experiences a tragedy that realigns their family roles, and their lives. 

"Father Soldier Son" is a gripping, emotional story of family, service, duty and destiny. Davis and Einhorn let the narrative flow naturally — again, there is no way they could have known the directions this story would go — and we see over time the ways the Eisch family deals with the obstacles put in front of them.

It's an emotional ride that shows the difficulties and uncertainties military families face, both during and after active duty. And it's a poignant look at ideas of masculinity, and what it means to fill the shoes that are placed before you. Pack some Kleenex, "Father Soldier Son" is an American heartbreaker.


'Father Soldier Son'


Rated R: Language

Running time: 99 minutes

On Netflix