As a hockey fan, Judge Ryan Keefer thinks the Canadian national anthem is by far the coolest, no pun intended.
Our reviews of Home of the Brave (2004) (published March 31st, 2006), Home of the Brave (2006) (published October 23rd, 2007), and Home of the Brave (1949) (Blu-ray) (published June 2nd, 2014) are also available.
The final test of courage is coming home.
Many films released over the last several years have dealt with "Gulf War I," rather than the current situation in Iraq. To the best of my recollection, Home of the Brave is one of the first films set in present day with Veterans of the War. Now that it's out on Blu-ray, does it deserve promotion, or should it go back to Basic Training?
Facts of the Case
Written by Mark Friedman and directed by Irwin Winkler, whose previous claim to fame was as a longtime producer of films such as Rocky, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, the film focuses on four soldiers who have just received official word that they are due to go home in two weeks. However in the midst of delivering supplies in an Iraqi town, they are ambushed by some insurgents, and Vanessa (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist) loses her hand to an IED, while the passenger next to her was killed. Searching for those responsible for the ambush, Jamal (50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin') shoots a woman leaving her home when she comes outside wondering what is happening. The squad leader Tommy (Brian Presley, End Game) is also wounded, but he is more traumatized by the death of his friend during the search. Dr. Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Brown) is a surgeon who treats most, if not all of them. They all return home, somehow changed by the events that transpired.
I would presume the general apathy directed towards Home of the Brave was that with so much "real" stuff going on several thousand miles away, there really isn't the need for something to be dramatically interpreted now. The short-lived show Over There focused on the Iraq theater before being pulled due to the same apathy. However, as one who supports the troops wherever they go (as an ex-GI myself), after seeing Home of the Brave, I think that "apathy" might be too strong a word when it comes to the film. "Redundant" might be the better one.
You see, when it comes to GIs and the cost of war once they get home, it's been done before and more effectively, with The Deer Hunter and Coming Home. What is new here that we haven't seen before? OK, you've got a woman in a war zone, granted. Jackson aside, the three soldiers discussed are cookie-cutter performances and stereotypes of other soldiers in the past. There's the quiet but driven leader, one who's trying not to die, and the one who's full of, let's just call it "ghetto bluster." There's also a loudmouth type (played by my favorite One Tree Hill cast member Chad Michael Murray) who appears briefly in the film. There's a grieving widow, played by Christina Ricci (Monster) in a surprising cameo we see once everyone returns stateside.
Then you've got the whole issue about performance and execution, and by far the biggest flaw in the film is one that was perceived to be its bravest. Biel's character initially is presumed to lose a couple of fingers in the blast, but later lose the whole hand, without explanation it seems. And rather than give Biel something courageous, like a lost leg or something difficult to deal with, she's given a fake hand and a scratch or two which goes away after being discharged from Walter Reed. When she acclimates back to civilian life as a high school teacher, the sight of her fumbling with trying to carry a box and open her car trunk is funny, because I had the subliminal thought that neither Biel nor Winkler wanted her face to get messed up while filming, despite the fact that she's trying so hard to be "in the real world" again. As to Jackson's involvement in the film, his role is the most interesting, if that's possible, as he starts to drink when he comes back and his son hates the war and hates the fact that his Dad's over there. But when these returning soldiers all share the same tragedy, Jackson's character has one that's completely different that's added in for convenience sake, so why share the impact with him as a result? So yeah Sam, get loaded and bring the Mexican landscapers home, we'll all listen to your "war is hell" story now, because I'm tired of these halfhearted muhvuggan performances in these muhvuggan movies you appear in.
Supplements wise, the material is the same as what's found on the standard definition disc. Despite the fact that the Blu-ray disc doesn't list the film's deleted scenes on its case, they are here, along with an optional commentary as to why they were cut. And aside from a scene with Dr. Marsh returning and seeing a patient that looks a lot like Cynthia Stevenson (Dead Like Me), the scenes are pretty forgettable. The commentary with Friedman, Winkler and producer Rob Cowan (The Net) is also bland, as the trio discuss the locations, some production stories, production hassles and the usual nonsense. Winkler strays into his old work from time to very occasional time, but that's the only thing keeping this track afloat. And speaking of tracks, there's a subtitled trivia track which isn't worth the time or effort. In a minor technical oddity, the 2.35:1 widescreen disc is the first MPEG-2 encoded effort I've seen from MGM/Fox in awhile, aside from their early batch of titles in 2006. Winkler says that the film was shot in high definition, and for sure the blood looks pretty vivid, and the blacks are nice, but the image doesn't consistently possess a lot of depth, and often times doesn't look as sharp as you'd expect. I was mildly expecting a powerful sounding DTS-HD soundtrack, but during the ambush this really isn't accomplished, however the dialogue is pretty clear. There are better films to demo the power of Blu-ray than this.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The semi-intertwined storyline with Tommy and Jamal was one that could have clearly been explored a little more, or should have been rewritten to include more interaction between the two. When Fiddy, a.k.a. Curtis Jackson, appears on screen, there's a charisma about him that makes you want to watch what he's doing. In fact, he's the only one that seems to show any emotion when it comes to the frustration of adjusting to civilian life. If he decides to quit making music as he's said to have promised to do recently, he does have an admirable fallback job.
Friedman's story should be commended a little bit. While there was some time spent on the adjusting of these wounded soldiers, the way that their acclimating was done (particularly Biel's) just comes across as being unintentionally funny, almost at an after-school special level. The other characters are pretty boring and don't inject any vitality into what they're doing, even as the story telegraphs a lot of what's coming. Without having seen the others, I'm going to presume that there are better films covering the Iraq war than this one, and Home of the Brave serves as a jumping off point to those, albeit a weak one.
The court finds for the plaintiffs and sentences Home of the Brave to 45 days of extra duty, a reduction in rank and pay, and withholds further judgment pending completion of duty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Irwin Winkler, Rob Cowan, and Mark Friedman
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