Over the weekend PJ and I watched Dog Tags, a movie about a guy, Nate, played by Paul Preiss, who joins the marines in order to please his girlfriend and his mother. While home from basic training, Nate gets a rude awakening about the girlfriend and meets Andy, played by Bart Fletcher, a gay guy with his own set of problems. The two men hit it off, leading both to make some important decisions about their futures.

I couldn’t find a trailer for the movie, so here’s a clip I found on YouTube. It takes place after Nate (the guy in bed) and Andy (the guy in the shower) have spent a night in a motel together.

I’m glad I found this clip because it illustrates what I like about this movie. First off, Preiss is great in this role. His Nate is a typical guy who’s just trying to do the best he can in life. His main problem is that he doesn’t know how he is. Raised by a single mother who isn’t very honest about his origins and who is torn between her hope that the marines will give him direction and that he’ll fail to become a marine, Nate pretty much just goes through life doing what everyone tells him to do. He’s not a big thinker.

Yet Preiss creates a character that is good-hearted and sincere, even if he isn’t terribly bright. As we get to know him better, however, we see that he is smart and has a lot of potential; he’s just never had the opportunity to figure things out for himself.

Andy is equally clueless. We soon learn that his most recent relationship was with a marine and that the relationship ended suddenly. Unable to move on, he decides to abandon all responsibility and just wander around the U.S. until he finds “his calling.” The exact nature of some of these responsibilities is also surprising.

Nate and Andy quickly become drawn to one another after meeting in an amateur porn director’s bedroom. One of the things I like about this movie is that we never see exactly what their relationship is. Just before the clip above, for example, the two share a bed, make out, and seem to be heading toward sex when Andy stops what’s happening and lays his head on Nate’s chest. The clip above is where the next scene begins, so we don’t know if they continued with the sex or never did it. The same thing happens at the end of the scene: the closing door implies that Nate gets into the shower and that the two men have sex with one another, but nothing confirms this in the film.

I was a little surprised that I liked this element of the film. I think I liked the ambiguity that it creates. Rather than give us simple categories — such as Nate is really gay or really straight — we are left to fill in what we think happens between these two characters. Furthermore, this ambiguity seems more realistic. A man like Nate — a working class marine with a girlfriend — might not immediately identify as “gay”even when he’s drawn to another man and maybe even fucks him a few times. And finally, this ambiguity makes this relationship about a lot more than just sex. Andy and Nate suddenly share a bond that transforms them both, but that bond isn’t solely or merely or perhaps even primarily about sex or sexual identity. I really admire how complicated this makes their relationship, whatever it is.

I also really liked writer-director Damion Dietz‘s style of storytelling. The narrative occasionally jumps back and forth between past and present in moments that show a character’s (usually Andy’s) memories and how they affect the present. In some cases, this leads us to question which parts of the narrative are the past and which are the present. This potential complication makes the film even more interesting, I think.

Preiss is certainly good (and attractive) as Nate. (Preiss also has an interesting website, part of which is devoted to his photography; it also has a few acting clips.) And Fletcher is equally good as Andy. (And also has a website.) Plus, I’m a sucker for a guy with eyeliner, which is Andy’s signature look. As the above clip suggests, this film isn’t afraid of a little skin, but it doesn’t exploit nudity or sex just for titillation’s sake.

Overall, I thought this was a very interesting and well crafted movie. It’s a relatively quiet film that relies more on dialogue than action. I really like it.