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The PTSD Workbook:
Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms
. "Home of the Brave"

Irwin Winkler has given us, as a producer, some very impressive films ("The Shipping News" of 2001 and "The Net" of 1995 are my favorites. As a director, his films are far less in number and noteworthiness. His list of credits as writer-director, even less so. So, if you look closely at his credits, it should perhaps not come as a surprise, despite an Academy Award (1974 - "The Towering Inferno," producer), why he didn't recognize a sophomoric script badly in need of one more rewrite. His only compensation is that he can share the blame with Mark Friedman, a first time writer, whose story and screenplay this is.

Kudos to them both for raising the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an ailment that's far more prevalent among our veterans than is generally imagined. This is a case of the aim of a movie being virtuous and honorable but the realization of it in need of more talent. The stress for the viewer comes in the form of boredom.

Not at first. The prologue combat sequence is powerfully done, suggesting the causal effect of emotional and personality swings that follow. The recreation of the kind of ambush action on the streets of small cities throughout Iraq, as encountered by our troops and as perpetrated by insurgent madmen, is well designed and ably executed. The fact of our troops being a mission of mercy brings out the ironies of war. But, the idea that a final assignment in a tour of duty in Iraq was a first exposure to death and loss for the dp;fortd involved, is difficult to accept. Where have these formerly happy-go-lucky soccer-playing mad-caps been?

The effects of the ambush are devastating. Heavy losses are sustained. The medical officer (Samuel Jackson) is overburdened by the sudden flood of wounded and the loss of men he is unable to save; convoy driver Vanessa Price (Jessica Biel) loses a hand and forearm to a bomb detonated by an insurgent; in a hot pursuit, Tommy (Brian Presley) witnesses his closest friend being gunned down; Jamal Atkins (50 Cent), a gunner, is overwhelmed.

These are the people we follow as they return to their home town. The common factor is that they are almost unrecognizable as the people they were when they left. Psychically damaged, their families have to cope with estrangements and withdrawals, far more disturbing and distant behavior than what might be the effects of normal maturity.

While the individual depictions of lingering stress may well resonate with case study documentation, the second problem in the script is not showing the personality disorder as an outgrowth of the individual battlefield experience. In a story about psychic damage there is nothing more than a generalized basis for the psychosis of the individual involved when more specificity might have been where dramatic connection needed to be made. That level of relevancy seems beyond the grasp or interests of the well-intentioned, TV-oriented creators.

Our sympathies for the characters suffer accordingly. If the creative team made the calculation that going for clinical depth would have distracted from the "drama," it was a profound misjudgment and an opportunity lost.

As a result, and with uninspired dialogue, no one does their best work here once the setting changes to the characters' common hometown. Jackson is going through the motions, depending on technique and presence, not moved to reach for more than the fulfillment of a role. Biel may have thought she was being given an opportunity to do a central character with psychological depth but this is not likely to bring her future offers for women in distress. She was short-changed by how the material was developed, or not developed.

Christina Ricci plays a cameo for, apparently, marquee value. Brian Presley comes the closest to show some promise, especially as he seems to be the one character who should have hooked up with Biel's but, in the general lack of creative wisdom, the chemistry they seem to have is simply ignored. The guy she ultimately does find attractive gave me no sense of fulfillment--not that I was rooting for her all that much.

An exception is Victoria Rowell who plays Penelope, Jackson's spouse. It's not that her part was any better written, but one can see that this hot lady is one to watch.

Except for the Iraqi action prologue, it's a stretch to say this is any more than a run-of-the-mill TV movie. It's an unfortunate case of worthy assignment; poor execution. It also should not be confused with the 2004 doc of the same title about civil rights activist, Viola Liuzzo.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Samuel Jackson, military medic
As prone to psychic stress as any other soldier
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