April 2, 2008

DVD Review: Home of the Brave

Last year brought a number of war-themed films to theaters. The vast majority of these films were somehow connected to the Iraq War (is that the right way to refer to it? Has it been given an "official" name that will be used in the text books of the future), with Charlie Wilson's War being the only one that was not directly connected, although there is still a very palpable connection between its events set in the 1980's and now. By and large, all of the directly connected films failed to ignite the box office. The audience has spoken, and they do not want to see movies based on a conflict that is going on right now, regardless of which side of the issue you fall on. One by one they fell, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, A Mighty Heart, all falling victim to an uninterested public. Not to mention the next one set to be ignored, Stop Loss. That brings me to a pair of films that did not get the chance the aforementioned titles were afforded. One of those films is Brian DePalma's Redacted, the other is the film that sparked this current round of thought, Home of the Brave.

Why these films were not given much of an opportunity on the theatrical scale can be debated to the end of time. Whatever the truth is, we will never know, not completely anyway. Redacted was received with vastly mixed notice following its winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Some described the film as incendiary and DePalma was cheered for his audacity, while others thought the film was amateurish and not terribly insightful. It was never given a chance at a wide audience, with a release that reached 15 screens, total. Now, Home of the Brave is not nearly as divisive as Redacted, it even has some star power behind it, yet its widest release was 44 theaters with a box office totaling less than $52,000 domestic. Why was this? Why was this film not given a chance to gain an audience? I mean, this was prior to the flops mentioned earlier (with the possible exception of The Kingdom, which was more concerned with action than politics). When you compare Home of the Brave to the flops, in terms of box office, it makes those other films look like Titanic.

Now, before looking at this anymore, it is important that we take a look at the film. It is not a terribly good one, but it is easily watchable and not awful by any stretch. Though, I have to believe the minds behind the theatrical release, the non-existent promotion, and the pretty much quiet DVD promotion would like you to believe it is bad and just ignore it. If the film is guilty of anything, its being a little too earnest, taking itself a little too seriously. Yes, I believe the verdict should be guilty on those counts, but that doesn't make it any less important. Not to say Home of the Brave is important, but it does focus on an issue that should be dealt with in a serious manner, considering how many it likely affects.

Home of the Brave begins its tour in Iraq. A number of soldiers (and an army doctor) have just found out they are going home. Before they can ship off for home, they have one last run to make, a humanitarian effort transporting medical personnel and supplies. As fate would have it, this journey goes south as they are ambushed. The attack will prove to have long-lasting effects on our primary subjects, emotional and physical.

Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel) has lost a hand and must learn to deal with that coupled with an inability to make connections with others. Dr. Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson) turns to the bottle to try to mask his memories. Tommy Yates (Brian Presley) must learn to live with the loss of his best friend, Jordan (Chad Michael Murray), who died in his arms. Finally, Jamal Aiken (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) must come to grips with his anger and his tragic shooting of a child. That pretty much covers all the bases, except to say they all happen to live in the same town and have ample opportunity to cross paths and bond over their collective experience.

Now, the health of of our soldiers home and abroad is something very important that needs to have some attention paid to it. The problem is that this film does not have much semblance of reality, it is filled with poor dialogue and mediocre at best acting. Everything is just a little too pat. I will say that Samuel L. Jackson does the best job of holding it all together.

It is not bad, not by any stretch, it just doesn't handle the material all that well. Back to the point of its theatrical run, there is no reason why it shouldn't have gotten the chance to flop nationwide along with the rest of the Iraq War-themed films. Is it worth seeing? Perhaps. I guess it comes down to how much you like any of the stars.

Audio/Video. It is well presented on DVD. The film is crisp, clear, and devoid of any digital artifacts. It is what should be expected from a DVD release from a major studio these days.

Extras. The extras are limited to a commentary track featuring director Irwin Winkler and writer Mark Friedman. It is a decent track with plenty of information regarding the development and shooting of the film.

Bottomline. Not terrible, not great, but it never had the chance to let the audience make up their own mind. Give it a shot. It covers an important topic in a heavy handed way, but it is still a subject that must be broached. Toss it in the queue and give it a go.

Mildly Recommended.


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