As I've maintained in other reviews, the war in Iraq is an anomaly.
Unlike the conflict in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 70s, American
television audiences are not subjected to the sort of reportage that
was the norm. In part, because the Pentagon appears to have learned
a lesson from that debacle. It was seeing nightly images of the
carnage and after effects of war that helped fuel the antiwar movement
and divided the country. Nowadays, there are other issues utilized as
wedges to separate Americans. We are supposed to fall into the
old "Red State, Blue State" divide.
Instead, filmmakers -- mostly documentarians -- have turned
their cameras on the Iraqi conflict and there have been a number of
excellent features screened at festivals and released in theaters in
2006. One of the first fictional dramas to tackle the subject matter
is HOME OF THE BRAVE, which marks the screenwriting debut of
novelist Mark Friedman and was directed by veteran producer Irwin
Winkler. The film obviously bears some passing resemblance to
William Wyler's 1946 Oscar winner THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
in that it deals with soldiers returning home and trying to come to
terms with what they've seen and experienced. But there are also
Wyler's movie was made right after the end of World War II.
The battles were over and the returning servicemen and servicewomen
were welcomed as heroes who fought to preserve freedom. The soldiers
who have participated in the Iraq conflict share more in common with
those who served in Vietnam: they are returning while the war continues
to rage on and the people on the home front have mixed emotions
about American participation.
Winkler and Friedman have carefully managed to avoid dealing
the political ramifications of the Iraq war and instead have concentrated
on the emotional toll it has taken on those who served. HOME OF THE
BRAVE begins with a lengthy prologue set in Iraq. A group of National
Guardsmen (including women) most of whom hail from the Spokane,
Washington, area, receive the news that they are set to be sent home
in a couple of weeks. Before they depart, though, they must participate
in a humanitarian mission and escort a convoy of medical supplies.
The convoy is ambushed and several of the members of the company
are killed or wounded. The audience then follows four soldiers -- medic
Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson), single mother Vanessa Price (Jessica
Biel) who lost her right hand in the attack, Jamal Aiken (Curtis '50 Cent'
Jackson) who carries guilt over accidentally shooting an unarmed Iraqi
woman, and Tommy Yates (Brian Presley) who struggles with survivor's
guilt after his best friend Jordan (Chad Michael Murray) is killed by a
Each of the quartet has to deal with various disappointments
and struggles. Marsh's son (Sam Jones III) is outspoken in his
opposition to the war while his wife Penelope (Victoria Rowell) is
concerned over her husband's inability to sleep and his growing
dependency on alcohol. Price has to deal with her handicap as
it affects all aspects of her life, even to the point of driving away
some of those who love her. Aiken struggles with the rejection of
his girlfriend and the guilt he feels for killing an innocent woman.
Yates carries anger and grief and attempts to find ways to channel
Clearly the director and screenwriter had the best intentions in
tackling this subject matter, but the on screen results are uneven.
Jackson is commanding in his role and he is ably supported by Jones
and especially Rowell. But his story is undercut when he brings home
some local Hispanic workers and goes on a drunken tirade during
Thanksgiving dinner. It's a misstep on the part of both the director
and the screenwriter. Biel does yeoman work as Price, but her
adjustment is resolved a bit too quickly when she begins a relationship
with a persistent co-worker (Jeffrey Nordling). Jackson's storyline
is the most heinous as it devolves into cliché. He ends up perpetrating
a crime with tragic results that is insulting not only to the African
American audience but also to the returning veterans. (I was
reminded of the time in the late 1970s when nearly every television
show had a Vietnam veteran who has turned to a life of crime as its
villain.) Presley negotiates the fine line of grief and anger and his
ultimate decision makes sense.
The screenplay continues to fall short. For example, there's
a moment at a movie theater where Presley's Tommy Yates is now
working selling tickets. Biel's Vanessa Price comes up to the window
and after purchasing tickets, recognizes him. They share a moment
during which they discuss the various prescription medications they
have taken to cope with the after-effects. They also allude to how
people treat them and the indifference of those around them to
the events unfolding in Iraq. What could have been a high point of
the film misses because of the trite dialogue.
I had hoped to like this film more than I did. The cast
is certainly worthy and they are clearly committed to their roles,
but unfortunately HOME OF THE BRAVE just misses the mark.
If you are at all interested in the subject, I would strongly
urge you to seek out the superior documentary THE GROUND TRUTH
which profiles real soldiers who have returned from Iraq and are coping
with various physical and emotional traumas.
MPAA Rating: R for war violence and language
Running time: 107 mins.
Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room and again on DVD
|Home of the Brave
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.