Genre: Drama and War Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.
Release Date: January 26th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Irwin Winkler Actors: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Brian Presley, Curtis Jackson, Christina Ricci, Chad Michael Murray, Victoria Rowell, Jeff Nordling
aried messages and skewed perspectives abound in this calamity of Iraqi war aftermath and its assorted victims. “Home of the Brave” may have good intentions and controversial subject matter, but it doesn’t translate into an entertaining piece of cinema. Actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci, who usually churn out admirable performances, are left with nothing to work with due to an obnoxious script, carelessly peppered with asinine dialogue, and a poorly arranged plot, devoid of artistry.
The film revolves around four soldiers who return home after a lengthy tour in Iraq. Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson) is a medical captain haunted by the lost lives he could not save; Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel) is a military cargo driver who loses her hand in a roadside explosion and must readjust her life around her detrimental injury; Tommy Yates (Brian Presley) is a specialist who deals with the torment of watching his childhood friend die in his arms from an Iraqi insurgent; and Jamal Aiken (Curtis Jackson) must cope with the accidental shooting of an Iraqi woman during a firefight that ensued after their convoy was ambushed. All four soldiers deteriorate under the hardships of acclimating back to their old lifestyles as the dour impact of war cannot simply be forgotten.
Back in 1946, William Wyler’s monumental epic “The Best Years of Our Lives” garnered eight Academy Award nominations and seven wins, including Best Picture and Best Director. Its premise was heartwarming, the acting superb, and the tearjerker moments abundant. It similarly followed war-torn veterans as they return home to discover a changed world that was unsympathetic and ignorant to the atrocities that took place during World War II. “Home of the Brave” is essentially a remake of that film, replacing WWII with the current Iraq conflict. The problem is, expectedly, that “Home of the Brave” fails to generate even the mildest bit of moving drama or human emotion that made the aforementioned classic such a mesmerizing work.
The film begins with predictable hubbub reminiscent of the least impressive scenes from “Black Hawk Down.” Explosions and gunfire rattle the crumbling walls of a Middle Eastern city, but poor timing and ill-contrived slow-motion shots clutter the formulaic action. On top of that, the acting is abhorrent. Curtis Jackson is horribly miscast; his character is pointless, nonsensical, and nearly unintelligible. Biel also hands in an uninspiring part full of insincere dialogue. And her rubbery hand prosthetics are repeatedly used in unintentionally hilarious scenes, shamefully mocking her handicap and the seriousness of losing a limb. Understanding or connecting with the characters is never successfully established, allowing the audience to question whether or not these roles are tragic or laughable – and they should most definitely not be funny.
The major political themes in the film are ambiguous and even conflicting at times. Marsh defends his son’s anti-war mindset, even though he willingly participated in and approved of the endeavor. And while the majority of the film depicts the negative aspects of armed conflict and the uncompromising and injurious mental anxieties that many troops suffer, the conclusion abruptly circles back toward support of the war and for those who can no longer live without the camaraderie of militarism. By the end, Yates is so distraught and uncomfortable with reintegration that his only choice is to go back to the harshness of Iraq, where he feels he can truly understand the environment and the fight. But why does “Home of the Brave” wish to push the negative outlook, only to resolve with Yates’ unexplainable drive to reenlist? Is the film defending the war or criticizing it? Apparently, it doesn’t know.
– Mike Massie