Home of the Brave (2007)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/15/08 13:35:48

"Someday, there will be a worthy movie on this topic."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

"Home of the Brave" was probably never going to be the first great Iraq war veteran film; it's far too eager to address that subject directly. Even if it was never going to be definitive, it would have been nice for it to at least be an average movie. Sadly, its unable to even manage those standards, no matter how good its intentions may be.

Director Irvin Winkler and his screenwriter Mark Friedman are trying to make the point that making war is often easier than handling it afterward, but probably didn't expect the quality of their film to illustrate the point. Home of the Brave opens with a fairly well-accomplished sequence where a group of Army reserve soldiers serving in Iraq are introduced and then ambushed on one of their last missions before being sent home: Characters are sketched out efficiently, the action is well-photographed, the sound adds to the tension, and the procedural details seem accurate without being confusing to those without the appropriate knowledge. Then the survivors are sent home.

And then things start to fall apart. For the characters, that's the point - P.E. teacher Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel) is not only self-conscious of and hindered by her prosthetic hand, but no longer feels any connection to her boyfriend. Tommy Yates (Brian Presley) lost his best friend in Iraq and his job at home; none of the work he can find feels like it matters. Jamal Aiken (50 Cent) is angry without an outlet. And Dr. Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson) is drinking when he's not clashing with his son (Sam Jones III), who has taken up an anti-war position in large part to spite his father.

That's not a terrible start, but Winkler and Friedman don't really send them anywhere from there. They've basically got these four characters, in somewhat different situations, and we cycle through them, watching Vanessa feel awkward, Tommy feel lost, Jamal feel angry, and Will feel conflicted. None of their individual stories do much to make them interesting characters rather than just avatars of how people come back from war damaged. When their paths cross, they rarely do much more than talk.

Now, they shouldn't all melt down the way one character does, but their conversations often come across as simplistic lectures to the audience. Tommy and Jamal go to a support group to hear Vietnam vets talk about how it never goes away. There's a scene where Vanessa and Tommy meet and find common ground, and as well as Biel and Presley play it, it's still all about talking to us, rather than revealing anything about them.

Sad, because it might be the best-acted scene of the movie. The rest is mostly adequate, but occasionally it gets embarrassing. A sequence with a drunk Will, for instance, allows Samuel L. Jackson to indulge his worst tendencies toward overacting. Most of the cast isn't given much to do - 50 Cent in particular - and wind up giving fairly flat performances.

I feel bad for Winkler and Friedman, as I suspect this is something they felt strongly about. But strong feelings and good intentions aren't nearly enough to make a good movie.

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