by Susan Katz Keating
Soldier of Fortune Film rating: Five out of five berets.
Veterans often remind their struggling fellows: “You’re not alone.” That’s the message British Army veteran Harry Turner wants others to pull from the new film Wildcat, that chronicles how he worked through his own post-traumatic struggles by immersing himself in nature, where he found unexpected and healing relationships. In his case, the healing came via helping a baby ocelot in the Peruvian jungle.
The film from Amazon Studios and filmmakers Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost shows the extraordinary and compelling saga of how the deeply depressed Turner becomes involved with an effort to rescue wild animals who are endangered by poachers. Through intimate video that captures moments both uplifting and terrifying, Wildcat shows how Turner fosters an orphaned baby ocelot, and evolves from feeling suicidal to joyful and confident.
Not everyone can go to the Peruvian jungle in order to heal personal trauma. But, Turner tells Soldier of Fortune, nature is everywhere.
“It’s not impossible to kind of do what I’ve done,” Turner says. “And I’m not just talking about raising wild cats. I’m kind of talking about getting out of a situation in mental health. And I know that a lot of that can be to go to a different beautiful place like the jungle.”
The transition from military to civilian life can be difficult, Turner says. But it’s not an impossible task.
“I know that being in nature for me personally helps,” he says, adding, “when you put yourself into nature and when you follow your gut and your heart, that’s when you’ll go to the best places.”
The film came about through a chance encounter in a hotel lobby, the filmmakers say.
Trevor Frost was pursuing another story based in the Peruvian Amazon, when Turner and his rescue partner Samantha Zwicker walked by. Frost soon learned that Turner and Zwicker had documented their animal rescue efforts on video.
“They filmed really difficult moments,” says Frost, who pored through the footage, enraptured. “I immediately knew that there was something special in front of me.” Hence began the project that is Wildcat.
Without giving spoilers, it is safe to report that Wildcat is an emotional journey for viewers, particularly in scenes involving Keanu, the baby ocelot. Central to the drama is that Keanu must one day forge out on his own, armed only with his claws, teeth, and instinct – and the hunting and survival lessons from Turner. One scene involving a vicious cayman reptile is particularly unnerving to watch.
Veterans especially have responded well in screenings, Lesh notes.
“Oftentimes, veterans stories depict veterans in one of two ways; either they’re broken or they’re a hero,” she says. One audience in Los Angeles felt that the way Harry was portrayed, he was not pigeonholed in one of those two camps.
“He can be the hero and he can also struggle with something that I think a lot of people in the audience felt really, really validated by, and it was powerful to experience that validation,” Lesh says.
Veterans who want to find solace through nature can sometimes face hurdles, Turner notes.
“There’s something that wants you to hold back,” Turner says, whether it be financial, family, or other issues. “But I always think that if there’s a will there’s a way.” In his own case, volunteering to help others brought the connections that enabled the depressed Turner to go to Peru.
It wasn’t an instant fix.
“I actually was there for a month,” Turner says. “And every day that I was there, I was thinking about ways that I could end my life. And about on day 14, I had this kind of epiphany. And I really realized that you know, my life was worth living.”
It was a message he instilled in little Keanu.
Wildcat will be available on Dec. 30 on Amazon Prime Video. In terms of ratings, Soldier of Fortune gives it five out of five berets.