Itís been said that Generals always prepare to fight the last war. If thatís true, then Generals are much more forward looking than Hollywood, which is still stuck several wars ago in Vietnam. Home of the Brave is basically Vietnam war movie dressed up in desert camo. More specifically, itís a coming home from Vietnam movie which employs all the basic stereotypes that Hollywood developed for Vietnam and Vietnam veterans, and applies them to the Iraq war.
Directed by Irwin Winkler, Home of the Brave opens with a National Guard unit in Iraq that is about to return home. A mission to deliver humanitarian supplies to a clinic goes badly wrong when their convoy is ambushed, suffering numerous casualties in a chaotic firefight. Winkler does at least a decent job of conveying the terror of urban ambush and roadside bombs, but the actions of some of the characters during the battle donít seem to make much sense. It wasnít clear, for example, why Sgt Price (Jessica Biel) took her truck away from the main column during the ambush and went tooling around through the streets of a clearly hostile city pretty much by her lonesome, unless perhaps it was to make sure that she could get blown up by that roadside bomb, losing a hand in the process.
Fast forward to the homecoming, with the troops returning to Spokane, Washington. Winkler is clearly seeking to preach an antiwar sermon about the human cost of the Iraq War. Fair enough, but to do this he needs to show these returning soldiers as human beings, and he canít, basically because he canít stop feeling sorry for them long enough to see their humanity. All he can give us is stereotypes and bad dialog. We know the soldiers are hurting, because they keep complaining that no one understands whatís going on over there, and because they all engage in very histrionic, stagy, and unconvincing outbursts of anger.
Dr Marsh (Samuel L Jackson), rages at a school principal for not letting his son wear a Buck Fush T shirt to school, drinks heavily, and rips a piercing out of his sonís lip. Jamal (Curtis ď50 CentĒ Jackson) gets angry at basically everyone, even the other people in group therapy (Nearly all of these characters end up in group therapy), and eventually takes his girlfriend and several other people hostage. (Yeah, thatís right. The one black character is the one who turns seriously violent.) Tommy (Brian Presley) becomes depressed over the death of his best friend in the ambush, and takes a hammer to a car in his fatherís auto repair shop. The story of soldiers returning home from the war, and struggling to reestablish their normal lives is as old as Homer, but Homer at least knew something of the Greek warriors he was writing about. Mark Friedman, who wrote this screenplay, seems completely clueless about soldiers in general and Iraq veterans in particular.
None of the performances in this movie is exactly sterling, perhaps because the actors are being asked to deliver such poor dialog. Samuel L Jackson has his natural screen presence to help him along, even in the screenplays worst moments. Jessica Biel clearly struggles with this role, and often seems uncertain of herself. Curtis Jackson gives the best performance, but then he gets relatively little screen time, and is never asked to do much except scowl and be angry.
There seems to be little point in taking Home of the Brave to task for itís antiwar and anti-Bush politics. The movie, which cost twelve million dollars to make, never played on more than 44 screens at a time, had a $25,000 opening weekend, and took in a grand total of $250,000 at the box office, nearly all of which came from overseas. Thatís punishment enough, surely. With such a small box office take, one wonders what percentage of the audience were critics who simply went because they were paid to do so.
The historian Douglas Southall Freeman tells the story of a young woman who, years after the Civil War, met an aged veteran who was missing a leg. ďWhy you poor man!Ē, she said, ďyouíve lost your leg!Ē. The old soldier looked down and said, with surprise in his voice, ďWhy so I have!Ē. Our service people in Iraq have fought this war with as much courage, ingenuity, and self sacrifice as Americans have ever shown. The brave men and women who have been wounded in Iraq have shown the same grit and lack of self pity as that old veteran of long ago. They deserve better than this. Perhaps if Winkler had taken the time to listen to real veterans, and learn something of the spirit they have shown on and off the battlefield, instead of retreading decades old cliches, he could have made a movie that people would have paid to see.