Netflixable? Turkish veterans take a troubling road trip — “Godspeed (Yoluc Acik Olsun)”

That uneasy feeling that the dark, downbeat Turkish road picture “Godspeed” might be dipping into propaganda every now and again are borne out by the film’s closing credits, referring to dead Turkish troops fighting Turkish (and Syrian and Iraqi) Kurds as “martyrs.”

So whatever else “Godspeed (Yolun Açik Olsun)” has going on, there’s an Erdogan government line that’s being parroted, at least as far as the film’s combat-veterans subtext is concerned. And Turks will have to grit their teeth over non-Turkish viewers refusing to swallow their BS. We know Turkey’s record of violence against civilians and failing to admit atrocities.

So take that element of the movie with a “Well, that’s their (official) view of things” grain of salt.

Mehmet Ada Öztekin’s film of a Hakan Evrensel novel is a slow but engrossing character study on wheels, a story of post-traumatic stress dealt with on one final mission, a road trip. It’s a tale too concerned with keeping a secret that’s not a secret at all, and condoning behavior that has might warrant a police “all points bulletin” elsewhere. But it’s well-acted and quite watchable.

We meet Capt. Salih (Engin Akyürek, good) and his trusted lieutenant Kerim (Tolga Saritas, sharp) as they’re ransacking the captain’s house looking for cash. His wife Duygo (Belfu Benian) stashed it somewhere. So as soon as Salih finishes shining his shoe, he hunts until he finds a roll of bills, and they’re off.

He’s taking his personally-restored 1974 Mercedes 220 cross country to a wedding.

But the shoe he shined was on the foot of his prosthetic leg. He lost the real one to a landmine. The cash isn’t all he grabbed. He also picked up his army pistol. The car, which he restored, was the one that his parents died in. The wedding they’re attending is one Salih is hellbent on preventing.

And the reason he’s in something of a rush? He busted out of a hospital where he was in protective police custody, “under investigation.” Salih’s wife knows and she’s frantic. Her husband’s snapped.

“Godspeed” follows the grimly-focused Salih and much more laid back Kerim on a trek through mountains and arid plains, on their way to the coastal town where the wedding is scheduled. Salih is just now coming to grips with his lost limb.

“I won’t be able to play six-a-side soccer any more,” he gripes (in Turkish, or dubbed into English).

“Do you even HAVE five friends?”

We see flashbacks of the pre-combat Kerim’s life, and snippets of their combat duty — carrying out patrols, dodging friendly fire and hunting for snipers.

And we follow their post-combat odyssey, where Salih deals with intrusive “lost leg” questions from a mechanic, steals a partridge slated to be dinner from a rural shopkeeper and waves his pistol at hunters, waiters, all sorts of folks.

His wife Duygo’s search for help from the police earns a “Nobody will look” shrug from them.

This isn’t going to end well, we figure. Well, unless the picture turns more melodramatic than it already is.

“Godspeed” could do with a lot more banter between the army buddies and a lighter touch, here and there. Salih’s more human impulses — helping stranded motorists who can’t let themselves be searched at any police checkpoint, stealing that partridge — are overwhelmed by his grimly seething sense of purpose.

We quickly guess what that is, and we get it. He’s got no time for nonsense. But the whole structure of this and most any road picture has “quixotic” and “misadventure” built into it. Öztekin spends his generous allotment of screen time playing up the cynicism, reinforcing (and subtly criticizing) the acknowledged “duty” young men have to do their army service, the injustice of welfare-for-some, but not the one-legged mechanic who was never offered a state-of-the-art prosthetic leg.

The film has polish and just enough pace in between pauses for “episodes” along the way, as well as flashbacks that fill in a story we already figured out back in the first act.

But Salih’s recognizably crazy and dangerous from start to finish, and that deadens the story’s impact. We should get glimpses that he’s redeemable, bigger doses of his humanity. All we get instead are plenty of suggestions that he’s made mistakes and that he’s made up his mind, and that we should take his point and agree with it, in lock-step.

There’s bitterness and grief and guilt in ample supply. “Martyred” or not, shouldn’t we get more scenes that allow us to take a liking to this armed and dangerous headcase?

Rating: TV-MA, violence, smoking, profanity

Cast: Engin Akyürek, Tolga Saritas, Belfu Benian and
Oyku Naz Altay

Credits: Scripted and directed by Mehmet Ada Öztekin, based on a novel by
Hakan Evrensel. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:59

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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