Theatrical Review: Irwin Winkler
's Home of the Brave is notable for being the first major narrative, non-documentary film about the Iraq War and, more specifically, veterans of that war adjusting to life back home afterward. Unfortunately, that's about all it will be notable for. A politically timid and artistically confused misfire right from the start, the film is an argument for the rule that filmmakers often need years of distance from a big historic event before they are able to make something out of it. Home of the Brave won't exactly come to be known as this war's version of The Green Berets, it will most likely be forgotten, good intentions or no.
A strictly by-the-book opening segment places the film in a firebase in Iraq run by a unit of National Guardsmen. A batch of them are rounded up to guard a medical convoy going out on a humanitarian mission into a nearby town. It's painfully clear from the start that an ambush is coming (for one, the unit just found out they're demobilizing back to the States in a couple of weeks) and everything prior to that is stilted Audience-Character Identification 101. The firefight itself is as clumsily handled as just about everything else in the film, leavening the generally poor choreography with some shockingly moronic actions on the part of the Guardsmen, many of whom act as though they'd never been trained for combat. Article continues below
To be fair, Home of the Brave is not in the end really supposed to be about Iraq or the fighting there, it's about what happens to these vets after they come home. Once back in the Guardsmens' hometown of Spokane, the rather clocklike script tracks the adjustment of four of them who were in that ambush. Jamal Aiken (Curtis Jackson, aka rapper 50 Cent
) and Tommy Yates (Brian Presley
), good buddies in Iraq, are now realizing that life back home isn't what they had left. Jamal starts stalking a girlfriend of his and generally lashing out in hate at everyone and everything around him; his hate fueled by guilt over accidentally shooting an innocent Iraqi woman during the ambush. Hollow-eyed Tommy finds out his old job is no longer waiting for him, and ends up driving around at night, fueled by a similarly target-less rage.
Slightly more developed is the homecoming angst of single-mom Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel
), who lost a hand in the fighting and lets her embarrassment over the prosthetic fuel an antisocial bitterness. On the one hand, the film takes a brave turn by disfiguring such an actress as Biel, but it also ensures that even in combat her hair is perfect, and doesn't have her hitting the bottle like all the male vets do. Biel, like the remarkably less talented Jackson and Presley, is given little to do beyond mouth dialogue that, while it probably rings true to the difficulty vets have coming back to civilian life, feels programmed to make certain points, rather than coming out of an organic feel for the characters.Samuel L. Jackson
, as surgeon Will Marsh, is about the only person here who comes through as a recognizably flawed human being. His inexpressible bitterness and hollowed-out anger is something to behold, and comes closest to telling the true story of what this film is trying to get across. But Winkler, late of such misfires as De-Lovely and the film-as-therapy Life as a House, can't come close to making a true film of these soldiers' experiences. There is less truth in this entire work than in a few minutes of such recent documentaries as The War Tapes or The Ground Truth.
Veterans deserve many things from us, including a better movie than this.