MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis Jackson, Jessica Biel
Extras: Feature Commentary, Trivia Track
It has always taken Hollywood a while to deal with wars, especially ones that aren't very popular, although it's hard to imagine a truly 'popular' war. "Home Of The Brave" holds the honor of actually being the first big screen fictional release that actually deals with the war in Iraq, and I think that is a good thing. All politics aside, there will be some truly great films made about this conflict some day, and if this film isn't great, at least it opens the door and invites cinematic exploration of the amazing and troubling events that do and did take place in Iraq.
The film is directed by Irwin Winkler, who also directed "At First Sight", "Life As A House" and "De-Lovely" and written by Mark Friedman.
It begins in Iraq, where an insurgent carries the dead body of a dog filled with explosives, and I instantly think we are in "Black Hawk Down" territory, but boy was I wrong. At least these battle scenes were filmed in Morocco and not Southern California, though, as I first suspected.
We are introduced to a group of National Guard soldiers, Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel), Tommy Yates (Brian Presley), Jamal Aiken (Curtis Jackson), and we also meet some others who don't make it through the rest of the film. We also meet the doctor Will Marsh, played excellently (as usual) by the great Samuel L. Jackson.
All of our poorly fleshed out characters get the good news that they are to be sent home, but they of course have one last mission before they can step foot on the plane. And one that goes very wrong, as it turns out. Of course, as moviegoers we already know that everything is about to go terribly wrong because there is something terribly predictable about this film from the very beginning.
Yes, we can see where most of this is going from the start, which means they are playing it safe. Still, when the convoy gets stopped and we see the urgency of how something as simple as delivering supplies can be, it is something of a shock. What happens next is an ambush by insurgents, and it is a fairly effective action sequence mainly because of the explosive, brutal violence, but also because it is one of the only films I have seen that effectively captures an IED (improvised explosive device) attack so correctly, so I must give them credit for the battle sequences.
If only the rest of the film were as powerful as some of these opening scenes, which are only 'not half bad', especially when you sit and contemplate the subject matter. Either way, it is shocking to see Vanessa Price get her hand blown off and the entire sequence reminds all of us what a strange war we are now fighting. It is an urban conflict, and the enemy is extremely resilient and seemingly invisible. During one scene, Jamal accidentally shoots a woman to death and we can see the shock in his face as he is hastily lead along by his fellow soldiers.
After the bloody conflict has ended we are suddenly catapulted into Spokane, Washington where our heroes are trying to adjust to civilian life once again, and it isn't easy for any of them.
Now before I go any further and rip this film apart from the inside, I would like to say I think that what our soldiers are doing over there has to be the most difficult situation imaginable, and I applaud them every step of the way. I've thought about it often, the things we take for granted are often not available in Iraq, not only for our soldiers but also for the people who live there. Things appear to have truly deteriorated quickly from the days when Saddam Hussein ruled everything with an iron hand. Things like air conditioning, water, and food on the table are the simple ones to pick at, but what about simply the ability to go to the store without fearing a suicide bomber, or the freedom to seek gainful employment without the fear of being kidnapped, let alone have a soccer game or any kind of joyous public event?
And all of this in a desert landscape, where the heat can actually approach upwards of 120 degrees. And in full gear, this would seem unbearable, to say the least. In other words I really have thought about the subject matter quite a bit, and I can't forgive the film for the way it fails so utterly and seems to milk this suffering simply for tacky melodrama, as I will explain.
Vanessa is having a hard time adjusting to civilian life and breaks down in tears upon arrival to her bedroom, she is a single mother (of a child we see once or twice, so she must have a nanny) and hates her boyfriend for unexplained reasons. She eventually breaks up with him and he utters a line that had to produce laughing all over the world, even if the subject matter is dark. He says, "I guess it only takes one good hand to push people away!" and storms off after being dumped. She doesn't know what to do, or where she wants her life to go, but at least she has 24/7 childcare, because her 'kid' as she calls him, is only in the movie for about ten seconds. She goes through the film feeling sorry for herself and moping. The only people Vanessa can connect to are people who have been through the conflict also, and she actually meets one at a movie theater where he is "pushing popcorn" (as his father belligerently puts it), Tommy Yates. They both try to connect, but end up only relating to each other through prescription drug medication jabber, which is sadly probably the most realistic dialogue in the film – and that is terribly written.
Tommy, on the other hand, is having a hard time adjusting to watching his friend die right before he was about to go home from service. He has a real chip on his shoulder and also has issues with his father, who wants him to become a policeman. He doesn't know what he wants to do, or where he wants to go. He is frustrated and drinking too much. At least he still has his looks.
Now, Curtis Jackson certainly doesn't appear to be taking a very challenging role, either, he's just plain angry at everyone – what a surprise – , especially his girlfriend, who doesn't want anything to do with him because he is acting too much like 50 Cent. He eventually snaps, but I won't tell you how, I'll let the melodrama sink in when you watch it yourself because it is one of the few redeeming and effective scenes.
Which brings us to Samuel L. Jackson, who goes through the whole movie being Samuel L. Jackson and that is perfectly fine because that is exactly what the film needs. He lives in a very well to do neighborhood, and is a successful doctor who has a loving wife named Penelope (Victoria Marsh) and a rebellious teenage boy named Billy (Sam Jones III) who is against the war. His is the most fascinating and entertaining stories in the whole film, he does a fine job acting, even when we find out his whole problem is he just doesn't care. Literally. And the scene at the Thanksgiving table where he brings in the Mexican gardeners and has a serious drunken conflict with Billy is priceless and hands down the best scene in the entire movie.
In the end, what we have is a poor man's "Crash". None of these people know where they are going and neither does the movie. The whole thing seems disjointed, distant and thrown together from simply reading the news. I'm sure it could have been far better if the project would have been in better hands. Instead it utterly fails and doesn't hold a candle to almost any other war movie ever filmed, except maybe "The Green Berets".
But at least the subject matter got its foot in the door, really you are better off watching some of the great documentaries on the subject, which are numerous.
Now the transfer itself, on the other hand, is a whole different story, it actually looks pretty good, but not great on this Blu-Ray release. A BD-25 single layer release framed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the picture is very clear. It contains many daylight scenes and therefore the detail is often strikingly clear, the dark scenes are also handled quite nicely and I actually detected no instances of pixelation or crushing. The color of the film is also nicely rendered, if not terribly vibrant, and the detail of the clothing and all of the objects in the background is often sharp. All in all, not one to put in to impress your friends and convert them over, but really, nothing to complain about, it looked as good as I wanted it to, though far from the best I've seen.
The sound is certainly nothing to complain about, encoded with DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (which my player sadly translated as DTS) it sounds very good and the surrounds are used very effectively and the average (everything about this film is average) film score is quite effective. Although it does go from very quiet to very loud during a certain flashback sequence, and I definitely don't like that.
Thankfully, we don't have very many special features, and I'm sure that was a calculated move, since it would probably be quite controversial hearing 50 Cent's political views, not to mention many others involved in the project.
We do have a trivia track, which is actually very interesting We do have a commentary from Irwin Winkler, Mark Friedman and Rob Cowan, and I listened to it all the way through, while thoughtful and engaging I can hear in the voices where this film went wrong. They played it too safe, there isn't any passion involved, they simply went for the melodrama, but that's what Irwin Winkler always does. They got what they paid for. Still, you should watch the film for Jackson's performance alone, it was very entertaining.