In 10 Words or Less
War is hell...and it never ends
Likes: Jessica Biel
Dislikes: The overexposed Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis Jackson
Hates: War movies, the current wars, feeling awful
If I hadn't know where this movie was going, I don't think I could have made it through the first scene. Set in Iraq, it follows a humanitarian mission as it makes its way through a bombed-out city. Unfortunately, the mission followed the news that the soldiers would be going home, so a heavy sense of dread looms over everything, making it the most predictable shock you'll ever experience. It's no documentary, but you can certainly watch and get the feeling that having a target on your back brings. It's a horrifying moment that says everything about warfare a fictional film can hope to say. But sadly, it's just the beginning, and not the end, which means there's plenty more time for the filmmakers to lose their way. I'm of the mind that removing this scene, and letting the audience picture the war in their own minds, would have potentially been more powerful.
Once the war is done with our heroes and left them scarred, in one way or another, they try to return to the lives they left behind to serve. Obviously, it's not sunshine and lollipops back home, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a movie. Surgeon Will (Samuel L. Jackson) turns to the bottle to forget what he's seen, Tommy (Brian Presley) finds he's not good at much besides being a soldier, Jamal (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) is an angry, injured young man who feels abused by the military bureaucracy, and Vanessa (Jessica Biel) struggles with the loss of her hand. The final 90 minutes of the film is exclusively about their problems on the home front, with their lives overlapping when their paths cross. That's a great deal of time in which little happens, as each character has a small defining moment that doesn't pay off in any huge way, with the exception of Will's issues with his family, which culminate is a silly blow-up that lack resonance.
The sad fact is the story of soldiers unable to adapt to non-combat life is nothing new, and is likely as old as war itself, though only in the past few decades has society seen this as a real problem, with the struggles of the veterans of the unpopular Vietnam war. Now, with an even less-popular Iraq war to use as a backdrop, director Irwin Winkler (De-Lovely, Life as a House) joins the list of filmmakers mining post-war life for emotion and drama. That he does so with a first-time writer's script lacking in subtlety and a cast that's not known for nuance, made it hard for him to not deliver a message with the force of a hammer to the head. If the words and performances aren't direct enough, the visuals pick up the slack, focusing tightly when the story wants you to notice something, or using dynamic flashbacks that look like something out of Pitch Black, just in case you managed to forget the first 19 minutes of the movie. Just by toning these moments down and making them our first glimpse of the hell the soldiers experienced, the film would have been exponentially improved. But that didn't happen.
So, when you mix dialogue like "I guess it only takes one good hand to push someone away," with the powerhouse acting talent behind "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" it's no surprise that the results can make you cringe. While Sam Jackson and Biel do respectable jobs of making their characters more than simple stereotypes, they are saddled with moments apparently intended to underline their issues, but which are too obvious to the point that they are too distracting to work in the film's favor. If this film is any evidence, Jackson may have worn out his effectiveness as an actor, when his military doctor has essentially the same personality and delivery of his last five films. On the other hand, Presley and 50 Cent can't raise their game above shouting emotions, somewhat because their parts aren't exactly the meatiest around. 50 Cent gets the cinematic equivalent of a boot out the door when the movie runs out of things to do with him, before wrapping up Presley's character is a way that's beyond telegraphed and features a voiceover that may as well have ended with the title of the film (which actually is pleasantly absent from the script, despite the obvious temptation.)
Though there are plenty of things working against this film, the biggest has to be the subject matter. Considering that every day more Americans die as part of a highly-questionable war in Iraq, the topic is too fresh and the wounds too raw to fictionalize (and some would say trivialize) in a Hollywood movie. Imagine what kind of reception World Trade Center or United 93 would have received if they had hit theaters on September 12, 2001, in the midst of the tragedy. Better to leave the task of telling these stories to the documentaries by and about real soldiers, especially since the news media isn't really covering them, thanks to general war fatigue.
A one-disc release packed in a standard keepcase, this DVD is a flipper, with a full-frame version on one side, and a widescreen edition on the other. Each side has an animated, anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and watch special features. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish 2.0 and French Dolby Digital 2.0, while subtitles are available in English and Spanish, along with closed captioning.
The very wide anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film is free of any noticeable defects, and sports a pretty clean, highly-detailed and overall vivid image. There's a bit of wash-out during the sun-drenched battle scenes, but there's no obvious dirt or damage and the film is free of digital artifacts.
The audio is presented as a DolbyDigital 5.1 track that has appropriate heft during the combat scenes to give them a kick, but there's no sense of being there, as the mix doesn't fill the surround speakers, keeping the action mostly to the center channel. Some minor special effects are fed to the rear and sides, and the dialogue is consistently clear, which is all the majority of the film demands, other than strong music.
The biggest extra is a feature-length audio commentary with Winkler, writer Mark Friedman and producer Rob Cowen. The conversation, which sticks close to what's happening to the screen, covers tons of ground, including plenty of background info and on-set stories, while making reference to the films that have covered similar topics, and the things they like most about the movie. It's a bit too congratulatory to both the filmmakers and the cast, but if you find the film interesting, the track fills you in on how it was made. If they toned down the praise, it would actually be a pretty solid commentary.
The only other extra is a pair of short deleted scenes that aren't bad, but aren't need either. Optional commentary by Winkler, Friedman and Cowen talks about why the scenes got the axe.
The Bottom Line
If the intent here was to craft a wholly-depressing and melodramatic film about the effects of war on those who survive it, then mission accomplished. If Winkler intended to tell a heart-felt story about the plight of Iraq War veterans after they have seen combat and have returned home, the results are less clear, as Home of the Brave struggles with the serious nature of its subject, reducing characters that could be full-fledged people to easy-to-categorizearch-types charged with delivering flashback-fueled and overly-earnest dialogue that says little that anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the veteran experience couldn't tell you. The DVD looks and sounds very nice, while the limited extras included aren't going to make a big difference for most considering a purchase. If you like your war experiences to be harrowing and your characters to lack any sense of subtlety, this is your movie, but more likely than not, there are better options out there, especially in the documentary genre.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.