Home of the Brave

dir: Irwin Winkler
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It’s hard to know why exactly they made this particular film. I don’t mean films about soldiers coming home from wars, or films about the current Adventure in the Middle East. I mean, I can’t fathom why they made this particularly crappy film.

If they wanted to honour the nobility and sacrifice of US service men and women, then they should have crafted a story where the characters weren’t just the embodiments of singular clichés. If they wanted to portray the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, maybe they should have spent some time actually finding out what it was. If they wanted to make a statement about the war, as in whether it should be ongoing or not, and whether the ungrateful Iraqis should be more worshipful of their masters’ gentle attempts at nation building, then perhaps they could spent some time with them.

And could they have chosen someone else apart from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson to be in it? Perhaps an actor, if it wasn’t too much trouble?

As it stands, Home of the Brave is a horribly muddled, well intentioned mess that does none of the protagonists any favours and makes fools of everyone concerned. It garners mediocre to bad performances from everyone involved, and cheapens the complexity of a war whose repercussions will be felt for decades, if not centuries.

That is, after all, where they’re going with this. World War II had the triumphant soldiers returning as heroes, but there were still films like The Best Year of Our Lives that presented the idea, entirely valid, that the men who fought and returned may have had difficulty reintegrating into their regular lives back home. The horrors of war, the trauma of seeing men die or being wounded leave indelible scars that soldiers don’t always recover from, and the greatest difficulty they might face is that their friends and family just can’t understand what they went through and can’t help them cope with the aftermath.

Or at least that’s what movies have taught me. By the time they started making flicks about the returned veterans of America’s less successful wars, the common theme was an almost suicidal level of dislocation from their lives, with an additional trauma faced by having taken part in an unpopular war (The Deer Hunter, In Country, Coming Home, Born on the Fourth of July and many more).

There have been a tonne of documentaries about the current conflict, but very few feature films about it. The first Gulf War had Three Kings, Courage Under Fire and the more recent Jarhead, but this current fight! fight! fight! seems sorely underrepresented.

And it’s a damn shame. There are surely many heroic stories to be told, maybe even on the American side of the conflict.

There really hasn’t been an explosion, pardon the pun, in flicks about the September 11 attacks in New York, or the current war. They’ve been a few, but not very many. One made-for-cable series tried tackling it, being the excellent Over There, which had the scope and quality writing and acting required to give the story justice, but it was cancelled due to poor ratings. Other than that it’s a market segment as dry as the deserts of Araby.

Home of the Brave, which is a stupid name for this kind of flick, spends fifteen minutes in Iraq, and then the next hour and a half bitching about it. A particular group of soldiers, all coincidentally from Spokane, Washington, are affected dramatically by an ambush and bombing that targets their convoy during a humanitarian mission delivering medical supplies.

This is the only part of the flick that works, because it actually conveys some of the ugliness faced by both American forces in the conflict, in predominately urban areas where they can’t tell the friendlies from the enemies, and the Iraqi people. Both groups of people can seemingly die at a moment’s notice, without logic or recourse to any notion of justice.

In this attack, various soldiers are affected in different ways. Some just die, which is about as affecting an experience can get, but then it’s their buddies who feel guilty about letting them die (Brian Presley) who have to cope with surviving. Others are permanently maimed (Jessica Biel), and need to clumsily pick up the pieces with their prosthetic arms. Another (50 Cent) can’t live with the guilt of having accidentally shot an innocent Iraqi woman, whilst another (Samuel L. Jackson) finds that he feels nothing about anything.

Once all these wounded people get back to the States, they all have a terrible time trying to deal with their traumas, and especially with trying to get back into their lives. Their friends and families are no consolation, so they go on their own downward spirals before they find either a) redemption, b) acceptance, c) death or d) macramé.

The fundamental problem that kicks in is that each of the characters is given a condition, essentially a cliché, that entirely defines their characters. Pretty much nothing that they do arising from this is convincing in any way, which renders performances from otherwise credible actors, to use the official film studies term, absolutely crap.

I’m sure there were real stories that could have been told. Over 4000 American military personnel have died in Iraq thus far, double that in contractors and mercenaries (sorry, private security contractors), and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, insurgents, terrorists, foreigners of various descriptions. Many more than that have been injured. Surely some of those people had stories more believable and less generic than the ones depicted here.

It is as if the script was penned by that D’Artagnan of screenwriters: Dr Phil. If you’re lucky enough to have never heard of the Southern drawling popular therapist who gives people crap advice on daytime television, count yourself lucky. Unfortunately for me, I’m familiar both with his accent and the worthlessness of his attempts at encapsulating real people’s complicated problems with quick fix pseudo-solutions and pedantic psychobabble buzzwords.

Each of the protagonists fulfils what the awful screenwriter believes are the compartmentalised ways people deal with post-traumatic stress disorders. Okay, the numbskull says, you’re the alcoholic, you’re the one that pointlessly goes berserk with a gun, you're the one with the road rage, and you’re the one who pushes people away until you learn to let your guard done when that special someone comes along.

He, being the tool Mark Friedman, whose claim to fame is that he was an assistant to Harvey Weinstein, and thus must have put up with all kinds of hideous abuse, abuses us back by giving these walking and moaning clichés one trait to define them alone, and excruciating dialogue with which to act out these painfully banal situations. In the face of this, all the actors involved bar one, regardless of their other achievements, give some of the worst performances of their short or long careers.

On top of the sheer nutty shitiness of the script, the director elicits nothing genuine from anyone apart from a few stray moments, such as when the character playing Samuel L. Jackson’s wife gives him a serve for behaving like such a fool. Jackson especially stands out, because compared to his performance here, he was more convincing in Snakes on a Plane. And that flick was a stinky clunker, or a clunky stinker, take yer pick.

Other scenes of horror include the Jessica Biel and Brian Presley characters having a conversation, the Brian Presley and war-widow Christina Ricci characters consoling each other, and any scene where anyone tries to act, or talk, or just look at something or someone. None of it convinces.

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, or Fiddy, as he is known by legions of undiscerning rap fans, is as exemplary an actor as he is a rapper, and as such is the only one who doesn’t supply a performance more terrible than anything else he’s ever done. But seeing as his performance in the flick that was supposed to be his biography, Get Rich or Die Tryin', was hilariously awful, it’s not much of a step up. He provided me with the only moment of amusement or enjoyment of the entire movie when he insults a fellow veteran at a group therapy session by asking him if the conflict he was a veteran of was Gettysburg.

When that’s the smartest line in your script, it’s time to set fire to the screenplay, the production crew, the actors and everything else tainted with this abomination, and salt the earth afterwards. It’s a misguided and wrongheaded fiasco, and should have been strangled at inception.

The veterans, the victims, the aggressors and the innocent trying to rebuild their lives, or cope with their losses, or trying to get out of bed every day in order to continue killing their enemies deserve a hell of a lot better than this.

3 ways in which this is the worst thing to come out of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 out of 10

“I didn't feel anything. I felt nothing for them." - I know how you feel, Mr Jackson, Home of the Brave