Stationed in Iraq, four military professionals, Will (Samuel L. Jackson), Vanessa (Jessica Biel), Tommy (Brian Presley), and Jamal (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who is completely unintelligible in this film), are bound together when they come into devastating contact with a roadside bomb and insurgent ambush. Sent back to America to recuperate, the soldiers discover they're not ready for their lives, striving to find their footing in a world that was once easy for them to recognize.
"Home of the Brave" arrives in the tradition of such post-war films as "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Born on the Fourth of July," and "Coming Home." It's a feature about the toxic effects of combat, and how it trickles into the war at home. Unfortunately, instead of a requiem for a stable life, "Brave" reduces everything to riotously loathsome television movie standards, bleeding the potency of what should be a very significant and disturbing story dry.
"Brave" commences with a heady depiction of Iraq war life, kicking the film off on a note of urgency and horror. These characters collide during a fiery trap, and director Irwin Winkler uses the brutal glimpse of combat hell to illustrate the despondent and hair-trigger nature of the country. If you can buy Chad Michael Murray as a butch military grunt (nope), then "Brave" does a solid job getting the audience into a claustrophobic state of mind as these soldiers' worst fears are realized.
As the story returns to America, and the characters begin to piece their hopes and dreams back together, the screenplay (by Mark Friedman), and especially the emotional intensity, begins to stall. Winkler is hunting for a weighty movement of heartbreak as the seams start to split on the homecomings: Will can't embrace his Bush-hating son, Vanessa has to relearn life with only one hand, Tommy can't find employment, and Jamal...lord help me, I have no idea what Jamal was after. Does 50 Cent even speak English? Winkler wants us to pity these damaged goods; essentially to reveal our own unsophisticated thoughts on a war fought thousands of miles away. Friedman takes great pleasure in hammering home this shaming formula every chance he gets.
A far more elaborate script might've achieved that lofty goal, but Friedman's take on post-war blues is dangerously cyclical in its condescension. Friedman doesn't write dialogue for his characters, instead he issues out talking points on the pointlessness of civilians who debate the war, the abysmal medical standards for vets, and necessary mental defragging. It's a crudely-penned valentine to guilt, reducing enormously real-word truths to after-school special pantomime.
Winkler hurts the film even more with his wooden, flavorless direction. He reduces good actors like Samuel Jackson, and promising ones like Biel, to wildly gesticulating cartoons. As the script pushes the drama to alcoholism (unintentional laughter might escape your lips watching Samuel Jackson play drunk), rage, and melodramatic breakdown, Winkler loses the punch of it all through his one-dimensional work.
"Home of the Brave" encompasses such an essential, topical subject that to see it bestowed a half-assed treatment here is criminal. The Iraq War, and all the insanity that it contains, is going to be fodder for dramas for decades to come; I pray future filmmakers learn from the monumental mistakes this dreadful movie makes because this subject deserves all the respect and attention it can be afforded.
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