Home of the Brave (2006) / Drama-War

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Brian Presley, Victoria Rowell,Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, Sam Jones III, Christina Ricci, Chad Michael Murray, Jeffrey Nordling, James MacDonald
Director: Irwin Winkler

Screenplay: Mark Friedman
Review published December 24, 2006

Perhaps as a made-for TV movie, Home of the Brave would have been considered solid fare, maybe even supporting enough fine performances by the cast to earn a few choice Emmy nominations.  As a theatrical release, it doesn't quite satisfy, precisely because it feels like a made-for-TV movie.  Oddly enough, it does have a veteran film director calling the shots, although admittedly one with a spotty history, in Irwin Winkler (The Net, De-Lovely).  It also has a decent amount of star power in Sam Jackson (Snakes on a Plane, Freedomland), Jessica Biel (The Illusionist, Stealth), Christina Ricci (Cursed, Anything Else), and 50 Cent (Get Rich or Die Trying).  It's also a topical film about the Iraq War, which begs the question; why does it feel like such a small movie?

The film starts off with the main characters involved in a deadly ambush as Marines serving in Iraq on a humanitarian mission, with some of them dying.  Those that make it out are physically injured or mentally scarred.  Upon their return back home to Washington, they find adjusting back into their former lives to be nearly impossible.  Samuel L. Jackson is a surgeon who becomes an abusive alcoholic, with a son who doesn't respect his service in the military, a wife who feels estranged by his emotional withdrawal, and a career that is going downhill now that he's drinking and suffering from insomnia.  Jessica Biel is a soldier who lost her hand due to an explosion, feeling ugly and unable to communicate openly with anyone she once knew without lashing out.  Brian Presley ("Port Charles", "General Hospital") suffers from the inability to focus on any particular job, haunted by the memories of not being able to save his best friend during the altercation. The government prescribes medication and treatment, but little of it seems to help in adjusting back to normalcy, in a world that is full of petty issues and the inability to see the war as something noble, and the participants are ignored.

One of the reasons why the film doesn't quite work is due to the stiff delivery by Winkler in presenting the battlefield action.  After witnessing harrowing visions of war from Saving Private Ryan to Black Hawk Down, Winkler's pat delivery feels outdated, never really seeming like the lives of his players are always in mortal danger (though they are), as they stop to converse or bemoan a fallen comrade for lengthy moments at a time.  Once they return home, the domestic drama fares little better, as most of the stories proceed with very few moments of genuine insight, only commanding attention during certain scenes where something interesting develops.  Is it me, or does it seem far too unrealistic that all of these war vets involved in that ambush happen to live in the same town and intersect with one another in more than one way?

I could probably condense the moments when the film works strictly to the Samuel L. Jackson parts, particularly when he tries to deal with his anti-war spouting son, which is probably the only fresh perspective the film has.  Had the film been just about Jackson and his family's inability to function, Home of the Brave might have stood a chance at being a worthwhile drama for people who aren't already in families of war veterans.  The Jessica Biel storyline never scratches the surface deep enough to bring forth anything poignant, while Brian Presley's scenes are barely noteworthy or memorable.  The involvement of Ricci and 50 Cent are distractions, weakening the film with their presence, as Ricci's scenes don't require an actress of her abilities, while 50 Cent's requires someone who greatly exceeds his.

Much like the experience of many returning soldiers who've fought in wars, Winkler and first-time screenwriter Friedman have many things to say and experiences to share, and yet they suffer from being unable to express them adequately.  Even when they do manage to relate some things, none of the rest of us seem to truly understand, just what they're getting at.  Perhaps the message of the movie is that the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces deserve our respect, assistance, and understanding, regardless of whether or not the reasons why we went to war are noble.  While this is certainly a message that few would find fault with, with better films about the experience of combat vets returning home, setting the film up in the Iraq War and then delivering manipulative and mawkish drama where realistic portrayals should be isn't the way to go about it.    Instead of playing like The Best Years of Our Lives, Winkler's flaccid treatment plays more like The Wasted Minutes of Our Day.

Qwipster's rating

©2006 Vince Leo