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Trite script wins battle in ‘Home of the Brave’

Patriotic and by-the-numbers story takes no chances and has no surprises. By David Germain
/ Source: The Associated Press

In keeping with its generically patriotic title, “Home of the Brave” is a rather plain and predictable study of the problems facing American war veterans integrating themselves back into ordinary life after serving in Iraq.

You have a surgeon, Will Marsh (Samuel L. Jackson), who drinks too much and turns icy toward his family because of the mental trauma of what he saw in the operating room there.

Easygoing soldier Jamal Aiken (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) is transformed into an angry, raving malcontent over the memory of a deadly mistake in the war.

There’s dutiful private Tommy Yates (Brian Presley), who, having lost his best pal over there, also seems to have lost his internal anchor and drifts about aimlessly.

And you have single mother Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel), adjusting to life as an amputee after losing a hand in an explosion (the character forces an unfortunate comparison to the greatest of war homecoming films, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which featured a remarkable performance from a real World War II veteran who lost his hands in combat).

Director Irwin Winkler did a tepid take on Hollywood song-and-dance with his last film, “De-Lovely,” and his oversight of the battlefield prologue that opens “Home of the Brave” is similarly anemic.

The house-to-house combat footage is a pale reflection of the riveting battle scenes in Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.”

The fighting breaks out during a supply run that’s one of the last missions for a band of National Guard soldiers before heading home to Spokane, Wash., after a tour in Iraq.

Insurgents ambush their convoy, touching off frantic volleys of gunfire, a bombing, a tragic civilian death and the fatal shooting of Tommy’s lifelong buddy (Chad Michael Murray).

“Home of the Brave” then wafts back stateside, where the characters meander through unimaginative and maudlin troubles at home and work.

Given its relevance and immediacy, the subject matter automatically carries emotional resonance, the movie sparking some fine moments of reflection about the difficulties in picking up where you left off after a terrible time at war.

But rather than dealing authentically with postwar trauma, the filmmakers let several of their story lines veer abruptly into extremes that strain credibility.

In his second movie, rapper 50 Cent is nearly as passive and ineffective here as he was in “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” In fairness, the screenplay by Mark Friedman, who developed the story along with Winkler, gives 50 Cent little to work with.

Given that his character’s homecoming ultimately is the most harrowing, 50 Cent’s Jamal is woefully underdeveloped compared to Jackson’s Will, Presley’s Tommy and Biel’s Vanessa, who get most of the screen time.

The other actors are generally solid, but no one delivers anything close to the sort of powerhouse performance an exceptional postwar movie such as “Coming Home” or “Born on the Fourth of July” demands.

For no apparent reason, Christina Ricci pops up briefly in a superficial role then vanishes from the movie, a budding relationship with one of the veterans perhaps left on the cutting-room floor.

A highlight of “Home of the Brave” is the digital wizardry used in a few scenes to show Biel with the stump of a hand.

This is Hollywood’s first big-screen attempt at portraying the plight of the tens of thousands of Americans returning from Iraq. They deserve a deeper, more substantive portrait of their transition back to the homefront, and some day, they’ll get it.