Home of the Brave (2006)


A sadly far-too-common sight during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

A sadly far-too-common sight during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

(2006) War Drama (MGM) Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Christina Ricci, Brian Presley, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Chad Michael Murray, Victoria Rowell, Jeff Nordling, Vyto Ruginis, Sam Jones III, James MacDonald, Sandra Nelson, Ginger Ewing, Jack Serino, Brendan Wayne, Mohamed Zinathiah, Richard De Mayo, Kiara Johnson, Joyce M. Cameron. Directed by Irwin Winkler

For three soldiers serving in Iraq, the word has come down; they’re shipping back home in two weeks. When in Hollywood, that’s a sure sign that something Bad is about to happen.

And so it does. Dr. Will Marsh (Jackson), Vanessa Price (Biel), Tommy Yates (Presley) and Jamal Aiken (50 Cent) are part of an Army National Guard humanitarian convoy bringing medical supplies and personnel to a small Iraqi village when they are ambushed by insurgents. The firefight is sudden and brutal, with the soldiers taking on well-armed adversaries. None of them get out without some kind of wound; Vanessa loses her hand in a roadside bomb explosion, Jamal accidentally shoots an unarmed civilian, Tommy takes a minor wound to his leg and as a result is unable to help when his best friend is killed. As for Marsh, he’s supposed to stitch them all together.

Once they recover from their physical wounds, they’re all shipped home and essentially left to fend for themselves. The VA bureaucracy is bewildering for some, while others fail to take advantage of the programs that are available to help them cope. Vanessa is having problems dealing with her mutilation; not only is she having physical problems adjusting to the prosthetic, her emotional issues are threatening to overwhelm her and alienate her from her family. Jamal is angry and frustrated; his former girlfriend Keisha (Ewing) refuses to have anything to do with him and he can’t seem to navigate the paperwork that will help him get the treatment he needs for his injured back. Tommy is aimless and drifting, unable to handle the guilt of failing his friend; on top of that, he finds himself attracted to his dead buddy’s girlfriend (Ricci), but neither of them seem able to help the other cope with their grief.

Dr. Marsh seems to have the most complex issues. His teenage son (Jones) is angry (what teenage son isn’t?) and takes it out on his father, who struggles to understand him. His wife (Rowell) in turn wants to help him with his pain, but can’t find any sort of common ground to begin with, even if he was willing to let her in which he isn’t. Instead, he turns to the bottle to ease his suffering, with predictable results.

The turmoil of soldiers placed into extremely stressful situations returning into a normal life is daunting. Not many go through the process unscathed but which of these returning vets will break and which, if any, will overcome?

Outside of Jackson, Biel and Ricci, few of the cast were really name actors at the time this was made. Jackson is, as always, terrific as the tormented medic while Ricci has only a couple of scenes in which to display her grief, which to her credit doesn’t seem to be a product of Acting Out Grief 101. Most of the rest of the cast is solid, although 50 Cent at times has difficulty enunciating in one of his first screen roles – his third, to be exact. As for the rest of the cast, most resist the urge to denigrate drama into melodrama but some succumb to the temptation.

The battle sequences are pulse-pounding and realistic, although it reminded me a little bit of the ambush sequence in Clear and Present Danger. Winkler is a veteran director and does a solid job of moving the story along. While the script is extremely flawed in terms of its characterization of the emotional state of the majority of our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the elements that work do so extremely well.

I’ll pretty much see Samuel L. Jackson in just about anything. Yeah, he can be over-the-top but he’s never boring. Winkler manages to make each soldier’s story gripping and you wind up caring about the characters and being interested in their individual journeys but the movie doesn’t really add anything to the overall conversation. In a lot of ways, the topic is and has been better explored in documentaries about the subject. I was disappointed that the script portrayed all of the returning veterans as psychotic, which is not true of the majority of returning war veterans. Yes, there are plenty of Iraq War vets who have problems returning to normal life, but there are plenty who are able to adjust without falling apart.  I’m not saying that they all come through unscathed and adjust easily to civilian life, but most don’t have the extreme reactions these vets did. I would have hoped for more realistic portrayals of vets adjusting to their return to normal life. In short, this is no Best Days of Our Lives.

While this seems to be a modern take on The Best Years of Our Lives, there is at least enough about it that give it some resonance. However, the 1946 movie about returning WWII vets is still the best movie ever produced on the subject and let’s face it, Jessica Biel is no Harold Russell. There is some resonance here however, particularly given the recent VA scandal and the difficulties veterans are encountering getting the assistance they need. Overall I have to say that I found myself interested in the lives of these soldiers and if you get me to that point, that’s half the battle.

WHY RENT THIS: Jackson is always interesting. Opening ambush sequence very powerful.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Heavy-handed. Doesn’t really cover any new ground.
FAMILY MATTERS: The subject matter is difficult for less mature audience members to latch onto, and the ambush sequence is fairly realistic, particularly when the roadside bomb does its work. The language is salty throughout; definitely not for younger and more sensitive types.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The closing credits song, “Try Not to Remember” performed by Sheryl Crow was nominated for a Golden Globe.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a trivia track on the Blu-Ray edition; the DVD edition has the usual audio commentary and deleted scene.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $499,620 on a $12M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (unavailable), Target Ticket (unavailable)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stop-Loss
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Deli Man

New Releases for the Week of August 6, 2010


August 6, 2010

Will Ferrell has Mark Wahlberg fit to be tied.

THE OTHER GUYS

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan, Eva Mendez, Michael Keaton, Ray Stevenson. Directed by Adam McKay

Danson and Manzetti are the city’s two most celebrated cops, collaring bad guy after bad guy. Gamble and Holtz aren’t quite up to their level; Gamble is a forensic accountant who would much rather sit in the office analyzing the paper trail, while Holtz has been banished to being Gamble’s partner after an itchy trigger finger put him in hot water with the Captain. These two unlikeliest of heroes will be called upon to save the day but as things usually do for the other guys, things don’t go quite the way they intend them to. McKay and Farrell have previously teamed up for movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material)

The Girl Who Played With Fire

(Music Box) Roomi Napace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Sofia Ledarp. The second installment in the Millennium trilogy penned by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson sees the publisher of Millennium magazine, who has made his living exposing corruption in high places, throwing himself once more into the fray when a young journalist comes to him with a story of sex trafficking in Sweden that goes up to the highest levels of authority. During the investigation, the computer hacker who works with the publisher is accused of three brutal murders, forcing her to go on the run while the publisher clears her name. The two stories turn out to be interrelated. The first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, made serious waves in the indie film circuit and is being remade into a major studio property being directed by David Fincher scheduled for release on December 23, 2011. The third of the Swedish films, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest will see a limited American release this fall.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language)

Step Up 3D

(Touchstone) Adam Sevani, Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson, Alyson Stoner. A group of street dancers from the Bronx team up with a freshman at NYU to take on the world in a global breakdancing showdown that will change their lives forever. One wonders how relevant a movie is when their official website is a MySpace page.

See the trailer, featurettes, music videos and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Twelve

(Hannover House) Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Kiefer Sutherland. A high school dropout turned drug dealer is living the good life; his Upper East Side clientele of boarding school preppies are keeping his business booming and he is able to successfully hide his secret life from his girlfriend. Things take an ugly turn when a new recreation drug du jour called Twelve is introduced into the market and his cousin is brutally murdered on an East Harlem playground. Now he is going to have to survive in a world he’s woefully ill-equipped to handle. This is based on the controversial novel by Nick McDonnell.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong drug content, alcohol abuse, language, sexual material, brief nudity and some violence – all involving teens)