Three Dramas from MGM
Home of the Brave (March 10/07)
Home of the Brave ultimately reveals itself to be a far more melodramatic and overwrought exercise in futility than one could've possibly expected, as director Irwin Winkler infuses the proceedings with a relentlessly heavy-handed vibe that effectively renders any and all positive elements with the film moot. This is despite the presence of several genuinely talented actors (including Samuel L. Jackson and Sam Jones III) within the movie's cast, but even the most gifted performer would be hard-pressed to breathe life into Mark Friedman's hopelessly inept and thoroughly misguided screenplay. The film follows several American soldiers as they return home from a traumatic stint in Iraq, and essentially details their efforts at readjusting to civilian life (Jackson's Will Marsh is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Jessica Biel's Vanessa Price must contend with a prosthetic arm, etc). It's the sort of premise that could've lent itself to a searing, authentic drama somewhere along the lines of The Best Years of Our Lives, but - in Winkler and Friedman's hands - the movie consistently comes off as laughable and downright campy (something that's particularly apparent in the uniformly inexplicable behavior of the characters). The bottom line is that Home of the Brave is nothing short of a complete mess, though there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of one unintentionally hilarious moment in which Biel's spurned boyfriend exclaims, "I guess it only takes one hand to push people away!" (a line that deservedly elicited mocking gales of laughter from a critics-only screening).
Music Within casts Ron Livingston as true-life figure Richard Pimentel, a talented public speaker who embarks on a campaign to improve the quality of life for disabled people after returning from Vietnam with a significant hearing loss. Buoyed by Livingston's superb performance, Music Within generally comes off as an agreeable though entirely uneven piece of work - with the film's predictable trajectory and saggy midsection clearly its most overt deficiencies. In addition to a fairly pointless subplot revolving around Pimentel's crumbling relationship with Melissa George's Christine, the movie also boasts a lack of subtlety that becomes increasingly problematic as the story progresses. This is exemplified by a simplistic scene in which Pimental and a handicapped buddy (Michael Sheen, in a spellbinding performance) are refused service at a pancake house, with the idea being that their mistreatment at the hands of a comically bigoted waitress is what finally spurs Pimental into action. The filmmakers' sporadic inclusion of similarly heavy-handed elements ultimately ensures that Music Within never quite comes off as the stirring drama one imagines it's supposed to, although - admittedly - there's little doubt that the movie has its heart in the right place.
Staying Together, though quite uneven and sporadically overwrought, boasts several strong performances and a screenplay that's often genuinely affecting - with the end result an engaging (if ultimately forgettable) piece of work. The story revolves around the close knit McDermotts - father Jake (Jim Haynie), mother Eileen (Melinda Dillon), and sons Brian (Tim Quill), Kit (Dermot Mulroney), and Duncan (Sean Astin) - and the strife that ensues after Jake announces he's selling the family restaurant. Director Lee Grant - working from Monte Merrick's screenplay - has infused the proceedings with a laid-back vibe that initially suits the material but ultimately become oppressive (there is, however, no denying that the filmmaker has painted an effective portrait of the McDermott's small-town existence). Merrick's reliance on melodramatic elements becomes problematic as the film progresses, as the characters' motivations are increasingly determined by the outlandish demands of the storyline (ie there's a ridiculous sequence in which Duncan and Kit, while in pursuit of an on-foot Brian, accidentally drive over a small cliff into a nearby ravine). Still, Staying Together generally remains worth a look if only for the overall vibe of authenticity and almost uniformly effective performances (oddly enough, Astin proves to be the film's sole weak link).