Home of the Brave
You want to like this movie because everything it has to say is the truth … and yet all points are driven home with a hammer until you begin to wish some of these people would just shut up and get on with their lives. Irwin Winkler has been the producer of some of the best films ever made, including Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The Right Stuff, and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? His handful of directing credits is not nearly so distinguished, and he has no business at all trying to write a movie. This one needed at least two more re-writes.
The first 20 minutes are good, showing harrowing combat in Iraq. I suppose each war has its signature horror. As one who never went to war, I’ve spent a lot of time imagining these things and how I’d have coped. (My conclusion: Not very well.) In WWI it was somehow getting up and out of the trenches and charging suicidally into withering machine-gun fire, and gas. In WWII, for Americans, it was storming those beaches in Normandy and the Pacific, absolutely no cover, might as well be naked. For the Japanese it was dying in a hole, cooked by flame-throwers; for Germans and Russians, it was freezing to death with no food. In Nam, it was the goddam jungle. In Iraq, it seems to be the sheer claustrophobia of the streets, where every window can hide a sniper, and every garbage dump can suddenly explode and take off an arm or leg. This movie does a good job of showing that. I felt the claustrophobia.
Then we follow four vets as they come home and try to re-adjust, and it just gets overblown. You want to see a good movie about PTSD (combat fatigue, shell shock), see In Country. One of the vets has lost her right hand. Confession: I know nothing about Jessica Biel, didn’t know she is sort of a star, and had thought she might be an actual disabled vet who had turned to acting … because frankly, her acting was not very good. The CGI “amputation” of her hand is that convincing. But that pissed me off, too. Why not try to find an amputee actress? I’m sure there are some out there, maybe an actual veteran. You’ve got Samuel L. Jackson as a “name” on the marquee, you don’t need Jessica Biel. The far, far better movie about vets coming home is The Best Years of Our Lives. Harold Russell won an Oscar as the Navy man who came home with no hands (in fact, two Oscars, the only actor ever to do so; one was honorary, for being an inspiration to the troops), and at least he came by his amputations honestly, not in a computer program. Sure, it was a sympathy vote, he was not an accomplished actor, but it worked. It worked very well.