Lionsgate // 2008 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 2nd, 2009
Sometimes losing your way home means finding yourself.
"Thank you very much."
Three soldiers are coming home from Iraq. The first is T.K. Poole (Michael Pena, World Trade Center), on leave for a brief period of time to recover from a minor injury to his genitals. The doctors are saying that it might be a while before he can get an erection again. T.K. plans to go home to his girlfriend in a few days, but first he wants to go to Las Vegas. He's heard that there are very talented women there who might be able to "cure" his problem. He has no interest in cheating on his girlfriend, but simply doesn't want her to know about his problem.
We also meet Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams, Red Eye), a redneck gal from the south who is also on 30-day leave. Her close friend David died during combat, and Colee is planning to go visit David's family. The external purpose of her mission is to bring the family David's valuable guitar, which has been passed down from generation to generation. Secretly, Colee hopes that her mission of kindness will inspire the family to offer her a place to stay while she is on leave. She doesn't really have anyone else to stay with.
Finally, there's Fred Cheaver (Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption), a soldier who has just finished up his time in the military. Well, actually, that time was cut just a little bit short. A port-a-john fell on top of Fred, injuring his vertebrae. It turned out to be a lucky accident, because a few days later everyone in Fred's company was killed. Fred just wants to head home to St. Louis to see his wife and son, and hopes to get a job at the old manufacturing plant where he used to work.
Through a series of rather contrived circumstances, all three of these soldiers wind up traveling in a rental car together on a cross-country road trip. There will be laughs along the way, along with some tears, and of course plenty of bizarre and unusual circumstances. The Lucky Ones examines a few crucial days in the lives of three individuals attempting to cope with what they have seen and done in Iraq, and allows us to watch as they make life-changing decisions.
"Iraq/Afghanistan fatigue" has set in very quickly. Films about the subject have almost uniformly performed very poorly at the box office, no matter what kind of spin they have attempted to bring to the subject. The talking-heads drama Lions for Lambs had a cost of $35 million, but brought back less than half that at the box office. The equally star-studded Rendition made only $10 million, while the $25-million Ryan Phillipe vehicle Stop-Loss only brought back $5 million at the box office. Brian DePalma's $5-million Redacted made less than $100,000 in theatres. No one is interested in such films, no matter what sort of pedigree they may have. The Lucky Ones is no exception, a $15-million motion picture that made a grand total of $200,000 at the box office. Ouch.
If you're one of those viewers who simply doesn't want to see an Iraq film of any sort right now (which is a bit silly, if you ask me), allow me to inform you that The Lucky Ones is not "an Iraq film." Yes, it is a story about three soldiers who happen to be returning from the war in Iraq. There are some interesting points made about the way soldiers are treated when they return home to the United States...they either receive more respect or less, depending on who they are talking to, but they are rarely treated as perfectly ordinary human beings. These peripheral examinations aside, this is not a film about the war or even about soldiers, but about human beings attempting to discover themselves in modern-day America. It may be a better or worse film for that, but you won't find any of the things here that make viewers want to avoid "war movies."
The film is directed by Neil Burger (who helmed the exceptional film The Illusionist), who expressed a desire to make a Sideways-style road-trip movie that just so happened to feature soldiers returning from Iraq. The film's strongest asset is that it has three compelling characters at it's center, all of whom seem believable and real. Michael Pena brings a laid-back cockiness and quiet intelligence (though not necessarily wisdom) to his role, and Rachel McAdams slowly reveals a sweet depth hiding beneath her trailer-trash exterior. Tim Robbins is particularly effective as a very good-hearted yet not especially brilliant man who simply wants to put the pieces of his life back together.
The DVD transfer is quite solid throughout. Facial detail is really exceptional for a standard-def disc, and the image is sharp and well-balanced. Flesh tones are accurate. The film nicely manages to capture images of both urban and rural America over the course of it's two-hour running time. The film does suffer from some noteworthy black crush during darker scenes, though. The audio is solid and low-key, with Rolfe Kent's score somewhat too enthusiastically attempting to replicate Kent's music from Sideways. The only extra on the disc is a lightweight making-of featurette, which features interviews with everyone of note involved, but offers little substance.
The episodic structure of the film makes it a very uneven viewing experience. For every thoughtful and interesting moment in the film, there is another attempt at wacky comedy that absolutely misfires. Consider the sequence in a church in which a pastor attempts to grab a feel of T.K.'s crotch during a "healing ceremony." Or how about the moment in which Fred's passionate affair with a woman at a party nearly turns into a very uncomfortable threesome? Or the positively bizarre tornado sequence that ultimately ends up providing a cure for T.K.'s erectile problems? There are some very bad scenes in this film, and for some viewers, they may be awful enough to bring down the rest of The Lucky One.
Though my recommendation of The Lucky Ones is a little less than enthusiastic due to the aforementioned problematic scenes, I ultimately found it to be a sweet and thoughtful little movie that deserves a better fate than it received.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R