I was surprised I hadn't heard of 'Home of the Brave,' which boasted a star-studded cast, a timely examination of the current war in Iraq, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song. A quick check online revealed how the film had managed to slip below my radar. Opening only in limited release this past spring, the film earned a measly $44,000 during its domestic theatrical run and a grand total of $250,000 worldwide. It was then that I hoped against hope that perhaps 'Home of the Brave' wasn't the stinker that its box office take seemed to suggest, but rather a victim of poor marketing.
The story is fairly straight forward. After surviving an insurgent ambush while on a routine humanitarian mission in Iraq, four US soldiers each face their own set of unique challenges: Tommy (Brian Presley) is plagued by guilt over the death of a good friend; Vanessa (Jessica Biel) fights to deal with an amputated limb; Jamal (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) is haunted by memories of the attack; and Will (Samuel L. Jackson) succumbs to alcoholism in an attempt to re-adjust to his everyday family life. War has taken its toll on all four soldiers, leaving each to decide whether to rise from the psychological ashes of their shared trauma or lie down and give in to depression and rage.
Unfortunately, the intriguing setup doesn't result in great cinema. 'Home of the Brave' doesn't challenge the status quo or effectively reveal the plight of soldiers -- instead, it merely offers a sentimental tale of four lost souls who dig their way out of tragedy. It isn't a bad movie per se (the performances in particular are quite strong), it just has some fundamental inadequacies that prevent it from standing out from other, better, post-war films. The script is stocky, character development is convenient rather than organic, and the emotional drama is heavy-handed and forced.
It doesn't help that 'Home of the Brave' takes an overly cautious approach to the war itself. Don't get me wrong, I don't need a film to make conclusive moral judgments for me -- I'm a fan of movies that ask a question and leave the final answer to the viewer -- but in taking a relativistic stance that seems to suggest that everyone in an argument is correct when you consider their individual perspective, the film fails to be an effective exploration of the war, its soldiers, or the reaction of the public. I would rather watch a great flick that I disagree with than one that seems to worry about offending its audience at every turn.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that 'Home of the Brave' bears more than a passing resemblance to the Oscar-winning Vietnam epic 'The Deer Hunter.' Though it pales in comparison, the structure, script, and plotting of 'Home of the Brave' is a near-replica of that earlier masterpiece, suggesting that director Irwin Winkler ('De-Lovely,' 'Life as a House') and screenwriter Mark Friedman may have watched 'The Deer Hunter' a few too many times for their own good. The filmmakers even employ small touches like a quiet, mournful guitar in the score to create an extremely familiar mood. Perhaps this is intended as an homage, but at times it feels more like plagiarism.
In the end, 'Home of the Brave' is an average war film that relies on its performances to cover up the inadequacies of its script. As a huge fan of 'The Deer Hunter,' I found the film to be a frustrating clone that failed to establish a strong, original voice. I'm sure it will find a receptive audience on home video, but it was too sappy and plodding for my tastes.
This HD DVD import of 'Home of the Brave' features an average 1080p/VC-1 transfer that fails to impress, but manages to upstage the domestic Blu-ray edition ever so slightly. The image quality itself offers much the same experience, but the VC-1 transfer doesn't suffer from the frequent artifacting and edge enhancement that cropped up on the MPEG-2 encoded Blu-ray. Don't get me wrong, these eyesores still appear from time to time, but it's far less intrusive and frequent than it was before.
Like the domestic BD, a boost in color is the main draw here -- a surprisingly vibrant palette houses natural skintones supported by stable primaries. The standard DVD looks fairly good, but an increased level of detail makes either high-def edition a clear upgrade. Close-ups receive the most benefit from the move to high definition, with skin texture, fibers, and officer pins looking much better.
Sadly, general softness and intermittent haziness keep the picture's crisp details from popping. Look no further than the funeral scene in chapter six -- note the gravestones in the cemetery, the leaves on the trees, and the clothing on the attendants. As the film moves towards its climax, the lack of clarity seems to become more and more of an issue. In the last fifteen minutes, there are a group of scenes I'd consider mediocre at best. Making matters worse is the fact that digital noise appears in quite a few shots. Add up all of these individual issues and a larger overriding problem emerges -- image depth is less than convincing and the overall experience is murkier than other high definition standouts.
In the end, this HD DVD import offers a cleaner transfer, but still stumbles under the weight of a relatively flat transfer.
'Home of the Brave' features a Lossless DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track that sounds identical to the DTS HD MA mix on the domestic BD. While the film focuses on conversations far more than the chaos of the battlefield, the first twenty minutes of the film boast several scenes that really open up the soundfield. Bullets pound stone walls, crumbling debris scatters across the ground, and the labored breathing of overheated soldiers sounds quite natural. In these brief showcase moments, the track's dynamic range is particularly strong and the LFE channel is used to good effect. The surrounds are engaging, ambiance is aggressive, and the soundscape is nicely prioritized.
Beyond these bombastic high points, dialogue is fairly crisp and spread across the front channels. Voices seem to lack a certain weight I've grown accustomed to with high-def audio, but only a handful of hushed scenes toward the end of the film had me bumping the volume up a bit. Interior acoustics, directionality, and channel pans are the only outright low points of the experience -- they don't quite create a thoroughly convincing soundfield, but they do make it moderately easy to sink into the experience. As it stands, 'Home of the Brave' won't necessarily turn heads after its first half hour, but the DTS-HD MA track does a great job with what little it's given.
The HD DVD import of 'Home of the Brave' will catch the attention of fans since it includes the documentaries and making-of featurette that didn't make it onto the domestic Blu-ray edition. The only downside is that their inclusion comes with an inherent trade-off as the import doesn't port over the BD's candid filmmaker commentary or its collection of deleted scenes.
As a film, 'Home of the Brave' didn't do much for me, but it has managed to build a small, supportive audience in the US and abroad. Regardless of my opinion of the film itself, this Dutch import really impressed me when I compared it to the domestic Blu-ray release. It features a slightly improved VC-1 video transfer, the same DTS HD MA mix, and a wealth of fascinating documentaries that aren't available in the US. While I missed the filmmakers' commentary track, I found the entire import experience to be more satisfying than what I found domestically.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.