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Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (A Movie Review)


Featuring Tim O’Brien, James Salter, Tobias Wolff, Anthony Swofford and the voices of Robert Duvall, Josh Lucas, Beau Bridges, Blair Underwood, Justin Kirk, Aaron Eckhart, Chris Gorham and John Krasinski.

Directed by Richard E. Robbins.

Distributed by The Documentary Group. 84 minutes. Not Rated.

War is such an important and divisive subject in modern life that it seems like it would be impossible to make a film on the subject without paying some sort of lip service to political or societal concerns.

Operation Homecoming has no such agenda. Though it is undoubtedly showing the horror and sheer devastation of war, it is doing so in the words of the soldiers who have and are living it. Much of it is horrifying, much of it is dehumanizing, however you get a more immediate sense of life during wartime through their words. Also, the futility of the actions are supplemented by the pride of the men and women involved. Some have lost their belief in the mission; others still hold on to duty and friends.

The movie is based on the fact that the National Endowment of the Arts sent teachers and writers to the Middle East to do workshops teaching the soldiers how to get their thoughts and beliefs and experiences on paper. Documentarian Richard E. Robbins spoke with some of these writers as well as other past war journalists. Even more touching is when he has actors recite the works of these soldiers while their stories are illustrated in different manners.

Most of the writing is notable for its conversational tone -- it seems like you are sitting with these men and hearing their stories as they relive them. This common language shows the horror in battle and tries to bring some beauty to the darkness. It is almost all extremely moving, no matter what you feel about war.

This documentary was filmed for PBS but due to its powerful message and good word of mouth it has received limited theatrical runs.

I think the power of this stunning documentary is best summed up in the words of one of the soldiers who has lost his innocence about life and war. "I was terrified that I wasn't going to get a chance to see anything interesting," he says with a haunted look on his face. "Which was just the dumbest thing to think, because I had a lot to learn about the word interesting." (4/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: March 30, 2007.

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