Apolitical, pro-soldier

Home of the Brave

on December 15, 2006 by Mark Keizer
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Sometimes a point needs to be made so badly that it can survive those entrusted to make it. So it is with Home of the Brave, a sincere, if middle-of-the-road attempt to dramatize the struggle that many Iraq War veterans face once they return to civilian life. The film is directed by Irwin Winkler ( Guilty by Suspicion ), who is never afraid to tackle tough subjects but who always stops short of drawing real blood. And there's plenty of blood in the film's opening sequence, a fierce Iraqi battle that claims four emotional victims: Will (Samuel L. Jackson), a medical Captain who treats a vicious wound to the hand of cargo driver Vanessa (Jessica Biel). There's also Jamal (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), an army specialist overcome with guilt after shooting an Iraqi woman, and, finally, Tommy (Brian Presley) who loses his best friend in the fight.

All four live in Spokane, Wash., and upon their return find it difficult to resume their prewar lives. Will is bedeviled by his combat experience and starts to withdraw from his wife. As a doctor, it's his job to have the answers, and here he has none, so he retreats to the bottle. Jackson is always a welcome presence, but it's been awhile since a character has required him to completely strip away the pop sensibility that enlivened signature turns in films like Pulp Fiction and the Star Wars prequels. And there is something about the voice, the body language and his whole Samuel Jackson-ness that makes it harder to acknowledge any emotional vulnerability, even when played against the obvious trope that the more impregnable the man, the more tragic his descent.

The film stays mostly apolitical, although Will is stuck with a rebellious son Billy (Sam Jones III), an antiwar teen who wears a Buck Fush t-shirt and hates his father for voluntarily participating in some American Imperialist escapade. Their conflict is tantalizing, but its climax, as a drunken Will gets medieval on Billy's new lip ring, is straight down Broadway. The same can be said for Vanessa, who is struggling with her prosthetic hand. After dumping her well-meaning husband, she finds a new lover by way of a disappointingly standard meet-cute, as Mr. Nice Guy helps her pick up a box of papers she dropped on the ground. Biel, whose recent, more serious roles are a grab at credibility, is certainly not bad, but she's a surface-level actor. The same goes for rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who has a very strong presence, but can't sell anything more than the blustery attitude that is de rigeur for his day job.

Home of the Brave is not prowar or antiwar — it's pro-empathy. Whether it's Jamal holding his estranged girlfriend at gunpoint or Tommy considering reenlistment, tragedy and dignity flower from the same bloodstained soil. It's respectful and nonjudgmental, but it's too pallid, digging in just enough to claim it's digging in. It's no Deer Hunter or Coming Home. But maybe it doesn't have to be. While the Iraq War continues to polarize the country, only the lowest of the low wish ill upon American soldiers. Although it plays like a rough draft of a better Iraq War film yet to be made, Home of the Brave should put the subject on the front page, where it belongs. That way it'll be easier for our troops to return home, where they belong. Distributor: MGM
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Director: Irwin Winkler
Screenwriter: Mark Friedman
Producers: Avi Lerner, George Furla, Irwin Winkler and Rob Cowan
Genre: War drama
Rating: R for war violence and language
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: December 15 NY/LA, January 5 exp

Tags: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel and Curtis 50 Cent Jackson, Director Irwin Winkler, Screenwriter Mark Friedman, Producers: Avi Lerner, George Furla, Irwin Winkler, Rob Cowan, Genre War drama, MGM
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