Last week when I reviewed Civic Duty, I referred to the difficulty Hollywood was experiencing when dealing with the Iraq war.
Home of the Brave tries to do it by taking up the long tradition of movies about soldiers returning home. I saw this movie six months ago when it was being positioned for a December release. When a film about an ongoing conflict is held up for this long, there’s always the chance that it’ll be eclipsed by current events. That doesn’t happen here, but only because the movie is so musty and cliché-ridden that it feels like it was made from a script about Vietnam vets that has been lying in a desk drawer for 30 years.
The main characters are all soldiers from the Spokane area, serving in the same platoon. Two weeks before they’re scheduled to return home, they’re sent on a dangerous mission from Baghdad to deliver medical supplies to the outpost of Al Hayy. On their way back, they’re ambushed by insurgents. In the resulting firefight, Spec. Tommy Yates (Brian Presley) sees his best friend killed by an Iraqi sniper, while Spec. Jamal Aiken (Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent) accidentally kills an innocent Iraqi woman while conducting a house-to-house search. Spec. Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel) is driving her truck away from the carnage when an IED explosion blows off her right hand. Capt. Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson), the platoon’s medical officer, treats the wounded and dying.
The sequence in which all of this happens is by far the best thing in the movie, as old-time director Irwin Winkler builds up to an unbearable level of tension before the soldiers are enveloped by chaos. Unfortunately, once the characters are back stateside, their stories take only the most predictable turns, with Price growing frustrated over her handicap, Aiken mentally unraveling from guilt, and Marsh turning into a mean drunk until he can’t work his civilian job as a hospital surgeon. The acting is undistinguished except for 50 Cent, who is far out of his depth, especially in the climactic scene in which Aiken takes a bunch of hostages at gunpoint.
The movie is far less insightful about the homefront than other films such as Coming Home and The Best Years of Our Lives, but it also glaringly fails to deal with the specifics of the current war. The only mention of politics is when Marsh’s son is suspended from high school for wearing a t-shirt that reads “Buck Fush.” (There’s also the bitter unintended irony of seeing the soldiers being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center, but this may have been trimmed in the last six months.) We see little of the polite neglect that our soldiers are encountering once the homecoming parades are over. As in many wars, the soldiers in this one are disproportionately from the poor and working classes. They have borne the brunt of the casualties, and the lower-ranking soldiers have sustained far more casualties than the officers. Meanwhile, the great majority of ordinary Americans have continued to go about their lives without being asked to make any material sacrifices to support the war effort. Our society will pay for this beyond the lives, limbs, and peace of mind that our fighting men and women have lost. There’s a good movie to be made from this. Home of the Brave misses its chance.
Home of the Brave
Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Biel. Directed by Irwin Winkler. Written by Mark Friedman. Rated R.