HOME OF THE BRAVE (Irwin Winkler, 2006)
In December film critics hibernate in theaters and screening rooms. Studios compete to get their contenders in front of the nation's movie writers in time for consideration on year-end ten best lists and by critics' groups. It's a frantic time with multiple screenings per day on consecutive days. Inevitably a few films slip through that studios are fooling themselves if they think their products are award worthy. *cough* BOBBY *cough*
Take HOME OF THE BRAVE, a drama that observes the difficulty four Army enlistees serving in Iraq have upon their homecoming to civilian life. The Irwin Winkler film strives to be the first defining movie about the struggles of Iraq veterans returning to an indifferent country, but it's hard to believe anyone can watch it with a straight face. HOME OF THE BRAVE is so ham-fisted in its attempts to wring pathos from the vets' problems that it plays like an overwrought parody of an award bait movie. Something this serious shouldn't be so consistently and unintentionally funny.
Before leaving on a humanitarian mission, the soliders learn that their company's deployment ends in two weeks. This is like a movie cop going on a call on the last day before starting retirement. You know something will go terribly wrong, and in HOME OF THE BRAVE it does.
The vehicle Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel) is driving is hit by an IED, and she loses her right hand. Tommy (Brian Presley) and Jamal's (50 Cent, billed as Curtis Jackson) squad goes on foot pursuit of the terrorists who ambushed them. Tommy gets shot in the leg and sees his best friend's brains splattered in front of him. Jamal accidentally kills a woman. He also takes a hard tumble and injures his back. Dr. Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson) escapes physically unharmed but bears psychic wounds that cause him to turn to the bottle.
These demons don't get exorcised upon coming back to family and friends. Vanessa has trouble adjusting to using a prosthetic hand and feels distant from her boyfriend Ray (Jon Bernthal). In a scene with dialogue so clunky you can hear it hit the floor, Tommy learns that his boss at the gun shop didn't hold his job while he was serving. He bristles at those, such as his father, who don't understand why he's so moody and unambitious. Jamal is angry that a former girlfriend won't talk to him and that his discharge papers keep getting hung up in the bureaucracy. Will self-medicates and lashes out at his wife and rebellious son.
Although packed with enough material for four films, HOME OF THE BRAVE starves each character's story and tells none of them well. Jamal's storyline is the most anorexic and may end up confirming in some viewers' minds the worst stereotypes of combat vets. Vanessa and Tommy fare a little better, but they're done the injustice of having a laughing fit-inducing conversation at a movie theater that is ripped from the Lazy Screenwriting 101 textbook.
Returning to domestic life from the frontline must be incredibly hard. There's no way those back home can understand the awful things witnessed or committed in defending freedom. Now magnify that with an ambivalent or underappreciative population. HOME OF THE BRAVE pursues the noble goal of conveying empathy for those who have seen combat. How unfortunate then that Mark Friedman's screenplay tries to fulfill its purpose with hoary clichés and the grace of someone trying to get out of quicksand.