For future films, my greatest suggestion is to be especially choosy as to whom you give supporting and extra roles to. Some people think that comedy permits less believable actors, but in reality that is usually not the case. Each time you use an unbelievable performance, you pull your audience out of the story a bit, which means you have to work all the harder to get them to re-suspend their disbelief.
Warning! Spoilers Ahead!
The second and most important thing, that impaired the story flow, came from the message and its delivery.
The overall message of the film revolved around three things: War is bad and evil; video games are bloodthirsty, immoral, and addictive; and the Army is manipulative, corrupt and slaughters the innocent. The problem with this message is that each of them could be their own separate movie. When you combine them all, it makes the film feel divided and scattered. The film tries to serve this by attempting to connect two rather divergent story arcs. The first deals with Forest and how he deals with his family and how video games affect him. The second deals with how the army deceived Grandpa and how they brainwashed him to be a killing machine. Unfortunately, the connection between these two becomes very quickly strained.
If the disparate messages are not enough of a problem, the way in which they are applied is a much bigger problem. The film delivers its anti-video-game, anti-war, anti-army sentiment in a way that feels very heavy handed. For example, Forest is playing ‘Bunker Buster’ and his military grandfather comes in to cheer him on. While there, Grandpa encourages young Forest to kill all the women and children he can see, which earns Forest lots of extra points. Then later Forest gleefully bombs maternity wards, orphanages, and diners on the off-chance he’ll blow up an Al Queada cell. Based on earlier comments in the film, we are led to believe that ‘Bunker Buster’ is based on the United States’ actual behavior in ‘Project Iraqi Freedom’, which is ludicrous. Not to mention illogical, as video games that encourage killing of the innocent have never proven to be popular. (Even crime-based games like Grand Theft Auto have penalties for killing the innocent, and, as to actual war games, every one I have ever played either penalizes a player or resets a mission if innocents are killed.) [Editorial Note: Before starting Microfilmmaker Magazine, I was a professional video game reviewer and still keep up with the industry.]
Another example of this sort of heavy-handed storytelling comes at the end of the film, when Forest decides not to help out the Army because he’s seen the error of his video-game-loving ways. Their representative’s answer is to turn red and state that if Forest “is not for America, he’s against it”, implying that he will be killed. This is so overstated that it literally stops the believability of the film cold.
Heavy handedness is something that is very common for first time filmmakers, as they are so passionate about the story they are trying to tell. However, with experience comes the understanding that to appeal to the logic of the viewers, the filmmaker must adequately sell the message. While some strong, emotion-based comments can be made, they need to be done with a fair hand, or they will quickly weigh down the film. An excellent example of a film that makes some very harsh comments on our society, but manages to be logical and even-handed enough not to weigh down the film, is Fight Club.