The day after they get the word they'll go home in two weeks, a group of soldiers from Spokane are ambushed in an Iraqi city. Back stateside we follow four of them - a surgeon who saw too much, a teacher who's a single mom and who lost a hand in the ambush, an infantry man whose best friend died that day, and a soldier who keeps reliving the moment he killed a civilian woman. Each of the four has come home changed, each feels dislocation. Group therapy, V.A. services, halting gestures from family and colleagues, and regular flashbacks keep the war front and center in their minds. They're angry, touchy, and explosive: can a warrior find peace back home? Written by
Irwin Winkler's "Home of the Brave" is much more than "just a movie," even if, as such, it's a partially flawed one. It is, without question, an important, thought- and emotion-provoking film, certain to be controversial.
Regardless of its merits, "Home" is brave, worthwhile, even admirable in its pioneering coverage of 150,000 soldiers "over there," and roughly the same number of returnees, who are trying to return in fact, not only in name.
This story of a group of National Guard soldiers from Spokane serving in Iraq and returning home is a schizophrenic experience: you are watching scenes straight out of last night's TV news, and yet feel as if you were back in the 1940s, in the era of "The Best Years of Our Lives" war movies, and the 1970s "Born on the Fourth of July" type Vietnam veteran sagas.
Given the subject, it's to Winkler's credit that "Home of the Brave" (a confusing title choice, considering the many movies with that name) remains firmly neutral about the current debate central to all politics. The film portrays both the support for and the opposition to the war, but favors neither. Winkler (producer for 40 years, including "Rocky" II-VI) sticks with characters in the context of the war, not making mouthpieces of them for or against a cause.
Mouthpieces, no; cardboard figures, some. Writing (by Mark Friedman) and acting are fair-to-problematic. The overemotional writing and excessively melodramatic acting combine to present a drama of extremes, denying the existence of true majority response to trauma: simple coping. Murder, suicide, insanity do occur in postwar situations, but most people, in my own experience, deal with such problems - more or less successfully - and go on with their lives.
In "Home of the Brave," you find no such "middle of the road," only extremes. After suspenseful (and depressing) Iraqi war scenes, shot in Morocco by Tony Pierce-Roberts, in a remarkably focused way that allows rare visual clarity in the midst of combat confusion, the film shifts to Spokane.
There, we follow - among many others - the lives of a combat surgeon (Samuel L. Jackson), a driver who loses an arm (Jessica Biel), three high-school buddies with intertwining stories (Chad Michael Murray, Brian Presley, and rap star 50 Cent). There are some quiet moments and reality-based situations, but the constant high-voltage !DRAMA! reveals and partially invalidates a manipulative hand pulling the (heart) strings.
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