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The Lucky Ones (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

The Lucky Ones


Starring Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins, Michael Peña, Molly Hagan, Spencer Garrett, Arden Myrin, Kirk B.R. Woller, Annie Corley, Christian Stolte, John Heard and Katherine LaNasa.

Screenplay by Neil Burger and Dirk Wittenborn.

Directed by Neil Burger.

Distributed by Lionsgate Films. 104 minutes. Rated R.

An interesting thing about the movies made about the Iraq war is that very few of them actually take place in Iraq.

I guess it’s not that surprising. Vietnam also spawned legendary dramas about the home front like Coming Home and The Deer Hunter. However, it also had Apocalypse Now and Platoon and others to show us about life in country.

The Lucky Ones – on the other hand – is not so much a war movie as it is an old-fashioned road movie where the main characters just happen to be soldiers on leave from the war. Some of their problems and concerns may be specific to their experiences in the Army, but the conflict itself is not argued or even discussed to any great extent.

In fact, the film seems to be mostly neutral to the war. Occasional pro and anti sentiments are tossed out periodically, but for the most part The Lucky Ones appears to be of the opinion that both sides are right and both sides are wrong – all at the same time.

It seems a tiny bit perverse to take an issue which excites such passionate and angry debate and then relegate it to the sidelines – however it is not all that unusual, many of the current Iraq War films are attempting to tread the middle and avoid the explosive extremes of argument.

For example, there are certain people who will refuse to see The Lucky Ones because co-star Tim Robbins has been a vocal opponent of the war – and that would be their loss. Robbins is an actor – and a very good one – and he is playing a character. He would never let his personal political beliefs in any way color the actions of his character – in fact he told me this specifically when I interviewed him a couple of years ago about playing another character that is on the opposite political spectrum from Robbins’ beliefs.

“It wasn’t my job to admonish him,” Robbins had said about the man he was playing. “We’d get into discussions and at times I’d feel like he was rationalizing something, and I’d try to bust him on it. But I realized that I’ve got to get him for who he is. I can’t have a debate with him. That’s not my job.”

Yes, Robbins’ Lucky Ones character Cheever is conflicted about the war – but more importantly he is conflicted about his life in general. In differing ways, so are the characters of his fellow travelers Colee and TK – as played by Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña.

This lack of focus makes The Lucky Ones both more interesting than a straight war movie and at the same time a bit of a missed opportunity. If they really don’t want this film to be about the realities of the war, why bother making them soldiers to begin with?

It seems that their stateside problems are much more common and somewhat less interesting than their professional ones.

The three are going home – Colee and TK for a 30-day leave, Cheever has done his hitch and is moving home. All three are injured, but not critically. Cheever’s back was injured when a porta-john fell on him, Colee was shot in the leg and TK took shrapnel to the privates. (They call each other lucky ones, as much as anything, because all three survived).

Cheever is looking forward to going back to life with his wife and son. Colee is going to meet the family of her killed-in-action lover, somewhat hoping to make them her family. TK has to see his fiancée and let her know that he is temporarily, at least, impotent.

The three end up sharing a mini-van across country, getting to know each other and all realizing that life at home is not quite as simple as they expected. At the same time, none of them really wants to go back.

Some of their experiences are interesting. Some are predictable. Some are a little outrageous.

In the end, though, The Lucky Ones mostly works. It’s not a perfect film and it does miss several opportunities, but it is a story worth seeing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: January 24, 2009.

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