Home of the Brave (United States/Morocco, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Home of the Brave starts out with promise as it shows to good effect the chaos and uncertainty inherent in "battling" in current-day Iraq. Unfortunately, after the action shifts from the deserts of the Middle East to the relative calm of the home front (specifically, Spokane, Washington), it devolves into a morass of melodramatic clichés. Not only is the bulk of Home of the Brave preachy and predictable, but it features some of the worst dialogue to be found in any non-horror film this year. There's no doubt that director Irwin Winkler and screenwriter Mark Friedman came to this project with the best of intentions. However, as the saying goes, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Sitting through Home of the Brave isn't cinematic hell, but it's only a step up.

In modern-day Iraq, five soldiers have just learned they're going home in two weeks. Before the departure day arrives, however, they are involved in an ambush and firefight that have lasting consequences for all of them. Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel) is injured by an IED. She loses a hand and is badly burned. She is treated on the battlefield by Dr. Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson), who has stared down the barrel of a gun in his own operating theater. Marines Jamal Aiken (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson), Tommy Yates (Brian Presley), and Jordan Owens (Chad Michael Murray) go in search of the ambushers. Jamal accidentally kills an innocent woman. Tommy is shot in the leg. After registering a kill, Jordan falls under a hail of gunfire. He dies in Tommy's arms.

Spokane, weeks later: none of the survivors are coping. Vanessa ends a relationship with a long-term boyfriend and finds it nearly impossible to get by using a prosthetic hand. Tommy is surly and incommunicative; his only meaningful conversations are with Jordan's mourning girlfriend (Christina Ricci in a cameo). Jamal has become angry and is on the edge of going postal. Will has turned to the bottle for solace and is working hard to erect a barrier between himself and his wife and children. These people, who could function in Iraq, are unable to deal with the business of survival once they return to the real world.

The opening scenes in Iraq are effectively presented. They use quick camera pans and point-of-view shots to good effect. Viewers can feel the tension and the promise of violence in every frame before chaos erupts, then Winkler takes us into the heart of the battle. After Iraq, however, the film isn't worth watching. The "drama" is clichéd and ineffective. Points are made with sledgehammer subtlety. Preaching is the order of the day. And the dialogue goes from bad to worse. Not only don't real people talk the way these characters do, but the lines are so laughable that it's amazing the actors could say them without breaking into fits of uncontrolled giggles.

The performances are uneven, but maybe that's to be expected considering the quality of the writing. Samuel L. Jackson mixes understated, introspective scenes with over-the-top buffoonery. Jessica Biel, who is taking a stab at becoming a serious actress, has high points and low points, with her worst moments being those that require big displays of emotion. Brian Presley's performance is less variable but no more memorable. Curtis Jackson has less screen time, but arguably does the most consistent acting. His screen presence is undeniable.

For anyone who has been away from home for a time, especially those whose lives have been spent in a war zone, a return to "normalcy" requires a period of adjustment. It's more difficult for some than others. Had Home of the Brave presented credible stories about believable characters, it might have been a powerful drama. Certainly, the setup is in place for something remarkable. Unfortunately, bad writing and heavy-handed direction have taken this movie in an unenviable direction. The sad thing to behold in Home of the Brave isn't the characters struggling to regain control of their lives, but the actors struggling to gain control of the material. Considering its inherent weaknesses, they, like unfortunate movie-goers who elect to see the film, have no chance.

Home of the Brave (United States/Morocco, 2006)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-12-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1