U.S. soldiers return home from war and find it difficult to re-assimilate into everyday American life. We’ve seen this idea played out dozens of times, mostly with Vietnam as the conflict of choice. In Home of the Brave, writer-director Irwin Winkler (De-Lovely) transplants the story into more modern times with the war in Iraq, without much success. Panned by critics and moviegoers alike, Home of the Brave feels a lot more like a made-for-TV movie than a major theatrical release, despite the presence of perennial Hollywood badass Sam Jackson (Snakes on a Plane).
It’s not that there isn’t power in the message that war profoundly affects those involved long after they’ve left the battlefield, it’s just that this film does a poor job living up to that message’s raw potential. The disc itself isn’t bad at all, but solid DVD production values can’t save a movie.
The story opens in Iraq, where our main characters are busy with war stuff. On this particular day, that means escorting Dr. Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson) on a humanitarian mission. Vanessa (Jessica Biel) is behind the wheel of one of the trucks, and accompanied by soldiers Tommy (Brian Presley) and Jamal (50 Cent AKA Curtis Jackson) in another. When they’re ambushed by insurgents (or whatever we’re calling them these days), a series of encounters leaves Dr. Marsh tending to a wounded Vanessa, Tommy’s best friend dead, and Jamal responsible for an unnecessary civilian death.
Later, back home in Spokane, Washington, these four attempt to rejoin society. That’s much easier said than done, because their experience in Iraq has changed them significantly and whatever loved ones they have don’t seem to understand. Dr. Marsh has major anger issues, and a son who’s against the war and his father’s participation. Vanessa is learning how to live without the hand she lost, returning to the life of a school teacher and mother. Tommy can’t forgive himself for his friend’s death, and he just doesn’t care about any of this civilized-life stuff. Jamal can’t seem to turn off the aggression, and his outbursts and behaviour have him on a bad road leading nowhere good.
You can piece together the rest, imagining how these stories will play out. Strike one against Home of the Brave is you won’t be surprised by any of the characters’ stories. There’s a clear progression for each of them, with obvious steps along the way, so much so that it basically becomes a waiting game as you watch for the inevitable to take place.
Strike two is the acting. It’s not a terrible cast, and Sam Jackson does an alright job as the film’s cornerstone, but Biel and Presley are a completely different story. On their own, their characters seem wooden. Together, they’re an on-screen disaster. The best example is a ridiculously bad conversation they have when Vanessa goes to see a movie at the theatre where Tommy works. Their dialogue is so forced an unnatural, I literally cringed.
Strike three is timing. Does anyone want to watch a film about a war that’s still happening? Perhaps, but this war is such a controversial and timely topic that it presents an almost limitless potential for drama. Unfortunately, Home of the Brave can’t rise above the quality of a TV-movie, which completely deflates the power of the film’s content and the filmmakers’ intentions. If you’re going to make a film on this topic at this time, it can’t be anything but great.
Great the film is not. If you must see this movie, I ask that you turn it off after the initial Iraq sequence, because it really is all downhill from there. All the way down.
Home of the Brave is presented on a single disc, in 1.85:1 widescreen format. It looks fine overall, with sharp picture, consistently natural colours and good contrast. As you can tell right off from the frenetic Iraq sequence, this is obviously a modern film with a modern transfer, so while the movie sucks, you can at least appreciate the level of detail on your screen. Oh, and there are no noticeable compression issues or source artifacts, either.
The sounds of Home of the Brave come by way of a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and they’re right up there with the video in terms of quality. Again, the initial 20-minute (or so) sequence in the war zone is by far the most appealing, as the surround mix puts you right in the middle of the action. Bullets firing, stuff exploding, people shouting, fighting and dying — all of these and more are presented with fine clarity and active dynamics. Of course, once the film is back home in the good ol’ US of A, it’s mostly just dialogue and extraneous noise. Both sound good, too, but who cares?
Like the film itself, the smattering of bonus material available on this disc doesn’t carry much weight. There’s a half-decent commentary track with director Irwin Winkler, writer Mark Friedman and producer Rob Cowan; and two deleted scenes that never should have been filmed in the first place, with optional commentary. I honestly do wish there were more deleted scenes here, because it might have meant less content to watch in the final film.
Home of the Brave is a film that falls well below the potential of its subject matter. It’s forced, poorly acted and presented with bland cinematography. The DVD has great audio and video, but is weak in the extras department. I wouldn’t even recommend this to rent.