There are some great war movies that concentrate on combat. Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory (the first part), Full Metal Jacket (the second part), and Platoon come to mind. But the ones I prefer are those that concentrate on the home front, and/or the aftermath: Mrs. Miniver, Coming Home, The Best Years of Our Lives, Born on the Fourth of July. My never having served, never having been shot at, may be one reason for that. I’m never quite sure they’ve gotten it right. But there’s also the fact that combat strikes me as somehow … easier. In film terms, I mean. Blood spilling, people getting blown up, the intensity of violent action. Any competent writer can write that, any decent director can direct it, actors can scream their lines. The hard stuff is more subtle.
This is one of the best. The wonderful Emily Lloyd is just graduating high school, and wondering about her father, who died in Nam before she was born. She’s living with her uncle, Bruce Willis (in what I think is his finest, most understated performance), who, like so many, never really came back from Southeast Asia. He left an important part of himself behind. All the vets in this movie are damaged, but none in the standard Hollywood way. There are no Rambos, just men trying to put it behind them, seldom talking about it to outsiders, hoping to forget, knowing they can’t. I won’t say more, except to mention that if the final scene at The Wall in Washington doesn’t tear your heart out, you don’t have a heart. And it does it honestly, never working too hard to jerk the tears. Quietly, with calm understatement.
A word about Emily Lloyd. You would never guess she’s a Brit, she gets the Kentucky accent down perfectly. I had seen her in Wish You Were Here and been greatly impressed, and after this, I was sure she was going places. But she didn’t. I now learn that she suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it almost stopped her career completely. Then she had some bad luck in casting. I still hope to see her again, and wish her well. But if she never does another major role again, this one will do.