Monday, December 12, 2005

COMING HOME (1978) - Hal Ashby

Anyone thinking of enlisting in the armed forces should be forced to watch this movie first. Take away the wall-to-wall ‘60s and ‘70s rock classics and a few questionable hairstyles and this story could easily apply to the current war in which we are engaged.
Coming Home is not the liberal anti-war polemic you might think it would be from looking at the box cover and knowing Jane Fonda is in it. Rather, it focuses more narrowly on three-way relationship between a soldier, a soldier’s wife working at a V.A. hospital, and the disabled veteran she meets while her husband is overseas, a situation which is rife with enough personal politics to be a whole movie unto itself.
Yes, eventually we get into the “politics” of the situation, the war in Vietnam, but it grows from the personal attachments we’ve developed with these characters. All three are basically good people whose lives have been forever altered by a war they had no part in beginning and who now are left to their own devices to find some sort of closure for it in their own lives back home.
Jon Voight, Jane Fonda, and Bruce Dern are all at the top of their game. Not to mention Ashby, who shoots with a sort of loose documentary feel that also manages at times to feel epic. He puts you right in there at ground zero, not on the battlefield, but with real war veterans in the V.A. hospital where the war after war is waged.
My only hang-up in this movie is that Ashby leans a little too heavily on the wall-to-wall soundtrack of classic rock hits. If it isn’t the Stones playing, then it’s the Beatles. And if it isn’t the Beatles, then it’s Bob Dylan or Simon and Garfunkel. I know these are all decade-appropriate and grew out of the “climate of the times,” but it feels more like Ashby had an “in” with all these bands or just a top-notch music supervisor and went a little crazy cramming as much in as possible. That said, the opening sequence set to the Stones and the end coda set to Tim Buckley are powerful mini-movies in themselves and are spot-on selections. I guess sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. But that doesn’t change the fact that it still is a good thing.

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