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Home of the Brave Print E-mail
Friday, 01 August 2008
ImageIn Iraq, a group of U.S. soldiers are delighted to hear that they will be returning home in two weeks.  As fate would have it, mere days before, they are sent out on another mission and are ambushed along the way.  The group undergoes heavy casualties;  Jordan (Chad Michael Murray) is killed, Tommy (Brian Presley) and Jamal (Curtis Jackson, aka 50 cent) are injured and Vanessa (Jessica Biel) has two of her fingers blown off.  Returning home, the survivors have great difficulty adjusting to civilian life.  Doctor Will Marsh (Samuel Jackson) is unable to reconnect with his patients and his family and turns to drink; Vanessa is frustrated while trying to function with only one hand, and begins to push people away; Tommy can’t find a sense of purpose in day-to-day life; and Jamal is an unstable time bomb, torn up with guilt after having gunned down an innocent Iraqi woman that startled him while on patrol.

While MGM’s packaging and synopsis might lead one to believe that “Home of the Brave” is a combat film, like “Black Hawk Down,” the battle sequence at the beginning of the film is only a brief prologue to the rest of the film which functions as a poor man’s “Best Years of Our Lives.”  Director Irwin Winkler’s heart seems to be in the right place and his intentions honorable, but the film is a very poorly directed work made from a weak script that fails to engage the audience.  The opening Iraq sequences feel obvious and decidedly unoriginal, offering not a single thing that hasn’t been seen in dozens of other war films.  Scenes meant to establish the characters and create a rapport between them feel entirely schematic and we are left with nothing other than incoherent, generic, ad-libbed buddy banter to hear and a maddening lack of close-ups, which only helps further distance us from any sense of who all these people are and what they may actually mean to each other.  Given how quickly Jordan is dispatched and the importance of his friendship with Tommy, a more skilled opening should have been prepared to give us some sense of who these guys are.  As it stands, the opening ambush feels like an afterthought, as if the inclusion of a combat sequence was one of the conditions the studio made, in order to greenlight the picture.

While the combat and ranger training that Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer put their casts through on some of their films might seem superficial and unnecessary, the proof is in the pudding.  The actors in “Black Hawk Down” are convincing and you buy them as soldiers when they speak and move.  The actors in “Home of the Brave,” in contrast, seem woefully unprepared, and as a result, the weakly directed ambush sequence feels highly artificial and stagey.  The actors seem like boys at play, imitating the behavior of soldiers they’ve seen in other movies and do not for one instant carry any sense of authenticity.
The lion’s share of the film takes place back in the United States, in Spokane, Washington, and here the actors are much more convincing.  Brian Presley and Samuel Jackson are particularly strong, but you sense that the actors are aware that the material is slack and not “all that it could be,” and is only barely taxing their abilities.  Jackson has a few scenes that generate sparks, but he’s servicing a script that does not properly evolve his character.  Jessica Biel isn’t bad, but part of her story is extremely distracting.  In the opening, she clearly has two fingers of her hand blown off, but when she arrives back in the states, they’ve removed her entire hand.  While reasons for this may be medically valid, especially in a combat situation, a scene should have been included that explained this.  Because the reasons are left unclear, one can easily look to other parts of the film for an explanation where none is intended.  For instance, Sam Jackson has a few flashbacks to the operating theater in Iraq where a soldier is waving a gun at him.  It could easily make one infer that something happened that made Jackson neglect her hand to the point where it had to be removed, or did his job poorly and feels guilty.  This is not the case at all; it’s just a ragged story thread.  Further weakening that storyline is the distracting, inarticulate mannequin hand (the one Carl Weathers sported in “Happy Gilmore” was more useful) she suffers with throughout the film.  On the commentary, the filmmakers state that there are several different hands that you can choose from, most with much greater articulation, but they choose her to have this one.  That her character can’t function properly with her inarticulate hand is a major part of her story, with scenes that repeatedly underline it.  Again, if this is a decision the character made, to have a visually realistic replacement hand, (even though it’s inarticulate) so that it would be superficially comforting to those around her, then that decision should have been shown.  Without an explanation, it makes her fumbling attempts to use it unintentionally comic, and with most of the audience aware of how much more articulate hook hands and other more primitive attachments are, it makes it seem as if the filmmakers are trying to manipulate us into feeling sympathy.  Given the scandal around the inadequate care given Iraq veterans at Walter Reed Medical center, the glowing comments the characters make about the great treatment the soldiers are getting there are uncomfortably cringe-worthy and unfortunate to say the least.

The whole film is a frustrating experience.  The traumas that Iraq veterans suffer upon returning home are very real, and particular issues the characters suffer with are tangible, believable, and important things to dramatize.  The ineptness with which this story is told is annoying, if not aggravating.  Scenes are trite and ham-handed at times and sloppily underdeveloped at others (particularly Tommy’s relationship with his family).  The ending avoids happy ending clichés but feels completely unsatisfying, as if it ends a few scenes earlier than the story really needs to.

The MGM Blu-ray release is a single layer 25GB disc, reducing the bitrate for the picture to half that of another recently released disc like “Pathfinder.”  As a result, the image isn’t as stable as it could be and aliasing artifacts are occasionally visible, mostly on the grillwork on automobiles.  The 1080p image is much better than standard definition but it feels as if it could be a tad better.  Close-ups are detailed and crisp, with faces appearing sharp, textured and lifelike.  Wider shots are clean, but stability could be a tad tighter. 

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is intense and enveloping for the battle sequences and clean and soft throughout the rest of the picture, with predominantly crisp dialogue.  The dialogue is occasionally mixed too low and one frequently finds oneself reaching for the volume control later on in the picture in order to make some of the conversations intelligible.

The disc features a warm and informative commentary track with producer/director Irwin Winkler, screenwriter Mark Friedman, and producer Rob Cowan.  An on-screen text trivia track is also included, but it’s extremely repetitive when played in conjunction with the audio commentary, and it frequently mirrors the content of that track, only reducing the stories being told to shorter text factoids.  Although not listed on the disc packaging, 8 minutes of deleted scenes are included, along with accompanying optional commentary by the filmmakers.  There’s nothing particularly substantial here.  A long opening scene where the soldiers find out they are going home wouldn’t have helped establish their characters any more convincingly, and its mostly just more ad-libbed male-bonding prattle and it’s mostly incoherent.  Trailers for other MGM war movies on BD are included, but not the one for “Home of the Brave.”  The Samsung BD-P1000 had great difficulty loading the disc, and it took over 10 attempts to get it to boot up

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