Poor Tommy Yates (Brian Presley), one of the heroes of the Iraq war drama Home of the Brave, has fallen so far after his return home that the best job he can get is (shudder) working the box office at a movie theatre. He runs into Vanessa (Jessica Biel), who was hurt in the attack that killed his best friend, at the movie theatre; they chat about how hard it has been to adjust. Tommy notes that he sells "stupid tickets to these stupid movies," but he never goes to see them, because they "seem so unimportant."
There are no other scenes at Tommy's place of employmenthe could work at any number of low-paying menial jobs. But screenwriter Mark Friedman works in that little piece of commentary to congratulate both himself and the viewer; the film you're watching is not like all those other "stupid movies," you see. It's important. The problem is that Home of the Brave is an execrable film, so poorly made and obvious that it is impossible to take seriously, no matter how earnest and noble the intentions. A bad film is a bad film, whether it concerns serious topics or not.
Most bad films can be blamed squarely on the scriptand this one's a doozybut Home of the Brave is incompetent on every level: bad writing, bad directing, bad music, bad editing, and mostly bad performances. Director Irwin Winkler started out as an accomplished producer, and bore that credit on many good films (Raging Bull and Rocky among them), but he has yet to direct a good film, after many tries (The Net, At First Sight, De-Lovely, Life as a House). There's no focus to this effort; the pacing plods, the performances are all over the place, and there's not a cliché in the war movie book that Winkler doesn't embrace (when Chad Michael Murray buys the farm early in the pictureto my immense reliefWinkler actually has his best buddy Presley run to him in slow motion, screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!").
The screenplay, by first-time screenwriter (and former Harvey Weinstein assistant) Mark Friedman, is astonishingly bad. Its poor quality sneaks up on you, since there's minimal dialogue before the first extended action sequence (though said dialogue does include the news that this Iraq company will be heading home inside of a week, which anyone who has ever seen a cop movie knows is a sure sign of impending death and destruction). But the dialogue is atrocious, the kind of corny, cliché-ridden platitudes that would get a quick rewrite on your average made-for-TV movie (which Home of the Brave, with its plinky piano music and slo-mo flashbacks, often recalls). For example, when he visits his buddy's widow (Christina Ricci, whose tiny role in a film this bad is entirely inexplicable), she asks, "Was he a hero, Tommy?" He replies, "He died defending his country." The whole script is like that.
And everyone gets a big monologue. Poor Jessica Biel actually has one where she tells the story of how she was injuredwhich we saw, in its entirety, in the opening sequence. Her telling adds no insight or additional perspective to the earlier scene; I guess it's there for people who showed up late (helpfully, footage from the scene is shown over her shoulder, as if she's Katie Couric or something). Victoria Rowell, as Samuel L. Jackson's wife, has a long monologue where she lists all of the things she did for their family while he was gone; he's aware of all of them ("I supported you when you enlisted!"), so this entire speech exists purely for our benefit. And so on. Even Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson gets a monologue, and whoa boy was that a bad idea. I know he's a tough guy (since he'll never shut up about how many times he's been shot), so I'm sure he can take the criticism he'll receive for his performance in this film. He's awful, all dead eyes and mumbled dialogue; given moments that require a real actor (like when he accidentally takes out an Iraqi civilian), Jackson's face registers nothing. Whatever you call him, Jackson or Fiddy, he stinks.
Brian Presley, who probably has more screen time than anyone, doesn't fare much better. The bulk of Presley's resume, according to IMDb, is on soap operas; this is his first major film, and with any luck, it will be his last. His line readings are stilted and unconvincing, his attempts at genuine emotion are laughable, and even a good actor would have trouble delivering his final "Dear Mom and Dad" voice-over well.
Samuel L. Jackson is good enough, I guess, but when is he going to get back to making good films? We've given him like ten years of paycheck roles now; it's time for him to stop phoning it in. He basically has to play the same notes that his contemporary Denzel Washington did in Courage Under Fire ten years ago; that was a brilliant, subtle performance, but even more so compared with Jackson's work here (his drunk act is about as nuanced as Foster Brooks'). The surprise of the film is Jessica Biel, who is actually the best thing in it, proving that her solid (but brief) turn in The Illusionist was no fluke. She has a couple of moments so honest, in fact, that they deserve to have been airlifted into a better film.
Believe it or not, I feel like I'm low-balling the sheer ineptitude of Home of the Brave; it really is inexcusably stupid, a mixture of every bad Lifetime drama, filtered through a hot topic to make it seem timely. And that's perhaps what is most reprehensible about the film: it is a ham-fisted, simple-minded, schlocky examination of an important subject. And for that, the people who made it should be ashamed of themselves.