Thursday, November 28, 2013

"The War At Home"

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When it comes to movies about the Vietnam War, Charlie and Martin Sheen got the action; Emilio got the aftermath. This was truly Emilio Estevez's most powerful performance since his portrayal of Billy the Kid in the Young Guns movies. The War At Home takes place in small-town Texas in 1972. Emilio plays Jeremy Collier, a young Army soldier who's just returned from two tours of duty. He was decorated in combat and received one of his medals for killing a Vietnamese sniper.

For the most part, it's a very serious, sometimes dark, drama, but it has a hilarious opening scene: Jeremy has come downstairs to eat breakfast and his mom is talking about the family's plans for Thanksgiving. She says she wishes it was a more religious holiday, the way it was with the Pilgrims. Jeremy asks, “What about the Indians?” His mom, Maureen, laughs and says there were no Indians at the first Thanksgiving. Jeremy patiently explains to her that Indians are the reason we have Thanksgiving in the first place. Maureen insists that this must have been after the Indians were Christianized. She reworks history a lot and Jeremy knows it’s useless to argue with her, so he gives up on trying to tell her she’s wrong.

Jeremy didn't have a job or any money saved up before he went to Vietnam, so when he was discharged, he had no choice but to go live at his parents’ house. He doesn’t get along with his family very well anymore because he feels like they don’t understand him. Maureen treats him likes he’s eight years old. His dad, Bob feels that Jeremy needs to get over what happened in the war and get on with his life. His attitude is a bit contradictory, as Bob himself served toward the end of WWII. Jeremy’s little sister Karen turned into a hippie while he was gone. She makes no bones about the fact she thinks he’s a killer, yet she still tries to pretend that she’s concerned about Jeremy’s problems, even attempting to psychoanalyze him.    

Jeremy is using his GI Loan money to take music classes at community college. While in class one day, he sees Melissa, the girlfriend he left behind when he joined the Army. They talk after class and go out to get some coffee. Melissa tells Jeremy how much she missed him and that she saved all his letters. In the same breath, she blurts out that she’s living with another man now. She never officially broke up with Jeremy, so he is understandably hurt.

As if Jeremy didn’t have enough problems already, his parents announce that Bob’s sister, brother-in-law, their son, and their son's wife are coming over for Thanksgiving dinner. Jeremy’s cousin David literally dodged a bullet because his number mysteriously never came up in the draft card lottery. He's a few semesters away from a college degree and already married. David feels very smug about the fact that it was Jeremy who had to go to Vietnam and not him. 

During the beginning of the movie, Maureen expresses some worries about Jeremy.  He’s been screaming in his sleep, and when he finally falls asleep, she thinks he wakes up too late. He’s grouchy and he has no appetite. Bob doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about; he says Jeremy will get over it if they give him time. By the end of Thanksgiving Day, Bob wishes that he’d paid more attention to Maureen’s motherly intuition.   
The War At Home is very suspenseful. Even when normal household stuff is going on, the tension never leaves; Jeremy's become so unpredictable that you never know what is going to happen next. The casting is superb. Kathy Bates is perfect as the well-meaning but sort of confused, overbearing mother. Of course, you cannot go wrong with Martin Sheen as Bob. The father/son moments would not have been as believable if any other actor had played this role. This movie shows that Emilio is not only a versatile actor, but a solid writer and director as well. It’s an enthralling and heartbreaking emotional study of what war can do to an otherwise happy family. 

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