Background: War movies are a dime a dozen, even decent offerings fairly common to find given Hollywood's love of the subject, so it makes sense that whenever the USA is in a conflict, there are going to be scores of movies providing a take on the matter. For those of you living under a rock in recent years, the USA has been at war with insurgents in Iraq, initially as part of a plan to chase terrorists and root out their big supporter (Saddam Hussein); now turned into a full blown occupation without end. With so much of our political will divided along sharp lines (depending on party loyalty as much as anything else), the danger of any film concerning veterans of the war being that taking a side will alienate the opposition; which is where titles like Home of the Brave Blu-Ray comes in. The movie is careful to limit the discussion about the specifics of the war and politics behind it, the emphasis devoted to the stories of four fictional survivors that have trouble coping with their return to civilian life. Whatever your stance on the war might be, we owe it to those fighting to consider the troubles that have been taking place for them so could this be the movie taking the lead in that charge?
Movie: Home of the Brave (Blu-Ray) starts off with glimpses into the desert life of US soldiers serving in Iraq; showing some short timers sent on what they hope will be a final mission. The mission is humanitarian in nature, to bring medicine and medical care to those natives that need it in a small community. What happens after that sparks the problems for the rest of the movie. Not unlike a small scale version of Blackhawk Down, the convoy is ambushed inside a small town with winding streets, the hectic nature of the situation causing the soldiers to break into two small groups. The loss of life quickly narrowing down the focus of the movie into a manageable amount of characters, we are left with a female medic (hotty Jessica Biel) losing her partner and hand to an improvised explosive device; a shoot-first soldier who guns down a defenseless woman in 50 Cent, a squad leader devastated by the loss of his buddy to a gunman in Brian Presley; and combat surgeon Samuel L. Jackson who turns to the bottle after returning to his old life and not fitting in.
The combat sequence itself was not bad but the jumpy camera, the heavy editing, and the urban fighting did not look as heated as it could have with a more seasoned "action" director at the helm but it was substantially more appealing than what followed. The melodrama of each of the four protagonists learning to deal with their burdens was okay in that they were all given to different demons but as brief the glimpses of truth might have been, they all left a taste unrelated to the context of the situation. In short, they were not believable and the dialogue was so forced as to make me wonder how many revisions the screenplay went through at the hands of meddling suits from studio headquarters. Using multiple protagonists is tough enough under the best of circumstances with seasoned cast and crew but they were all over the place here. Vanessa (Biel) struggles as a teacher impaired more by her mental state than the missing hand, Jamal (50 Cent) resorts to violence when his disability claims are not handled to his liking, Tommy (Presley) bounces around despite his family giving him some opportunities, and Dr. Marsh (Jackson) dives so deeply into the bottle for no apparent reason that all of them betray the troops the movie seems to want to support so badly; lacking the ability to do so making it worse.
The tear jerker nature of the movie might cater to a select audience too but absent a single soldier making his way without falling apart sends another kind of message to the audience, a dangerous message at that, telling the world that all soldiers are going to be unable to assimilate back into society; their post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) so bad that all around them are in peril. Like the scores of movies released at the end of the Vietnam War (like Coming Home and Deer Hunter), soldiers are painted into a very small corner and labeled as threats to society. The few opportunities provided the otherwise decent cast were squandered without any redeeming value, not even serving as launching points for proper discussion thanks to so many strikes against them. In short, for all the potential Home of the Brave (Blu-Ray) may have had, there was little going for it unless you think watching a set of four emotional cripples go through the paces works as either entertainment or a catharsis for the troubles of the heroes serving in the military. As such, I found the movie to be just as much of a Skip It as my fellow reviewer Brian Orndorf did, his own objections similar to mine own, with some commentary that this former military man found interesting.
Picture: Home of the Brave (Blu-Ray) was presented in widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 as originally shot by director Irwin Winkler and using a mystifying compression codec of MPEG-2 with an advertised average of 18 Mbps (from watching the movie, it was often in the mid 20's though so your mileage may vary). To me at least, the visual elements looked washed out more often than not and indicative of a SD version of the movie, albeit a fair looking version of the common DVD format, though far from the potential of blue ray as seen elsewhere. Having watched several 1080p releases of late, this title simply fell flat in too many visual areas to really convince me that anyone wanted it to succeed, the resolution adequate but slightly grainy, some aliasing going on, and a soft focus used in numerous scenes (contrasted to the stark reality of the opening desert fight that struck me as poorly shot too). If anything, the claims that it looks like an Afternoon Special are bolstered by the look of the movie, budget considerations discussed at length in the director/producer commentary.
Sound: The audio was presented with the primary track being a 5.1 English offering in DTS HD "lossless" using a 48 KHz/16 bit approach and a 768 Kbps bitrate (alternative tracks were 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround in French and Spanish; optional subtitles in English and Spanish). While most of the movie concerned talking heads melodramatically whining about their lot in life, the kicker could have been the opening sequence in the desert but it lacked punch, pizzazz, and anything even remotely close to a firefight sound to it. The tossed in rear channel effects were few and far between, the bass thundering a few times when needed but sounding too loose and indistinctive to really grip the moment. The maudlin score was cookie cutter appropriate for a generic network quickie but could have been from canned sources as far as I was concerned. The vocals were generally clean though and with minimal separation between the tracks (rarely using the format to even the slightest advantage for directionality), you won't miss much if your system is below par. And as a reminder, you will want to make sure you have the latest firmware upgrades or the audio might cut out and give you trouble; something a number of folks have found out about the latest technology.
Extras: The main extra was the audio commentary by director Irwin Winkler and producer Rob Cowan. The two discussed the technical aspects more often than not, particularly during the early half of the movie, but paid some attention to the thematic aspects later on as well. I left it on while writing this review in hopes of finding more to like about it but I got the impression that the duo had moved on from the project (at least mentally) and were more apologetic than anything else. There was a trivia track included as well but I found it largely a pain in the ass and turned it off soon into the movie. I also found the short deleted scenes to be mediocre, not needing to be a rocket scientist to figure out why they were deleted but the reaffirming experience of the optional commentary explaining why the scenes were trimmed off the final project (the reasoning could have applied to scores more footage too).
Final Thoughts: Home of the Brave (Blu-Ray) wanted to be the Coming Home of the next generation but even the advertising on the back cover betrayed what the marketers felt it should be promoted as (suggesting it was more about the battle than dealing with their attempts to come back home and assimilate into society). The technical matters of the blue ray release were questionable too and the lack of substantive extras seems a ploy for a later double dip given the track record of the company. If you really want to see a "good" war movie, one that deals with battles or one that deals with the people returning home, you can do a lot better than Home of the Brave (Blu-Ray) so only check this bland, vanilla, and almost lifeless attempt to display the very real problems some of our heroes are facing if you want to see a badly made film for comparison purposes.