Badland

2007, Movie, R, 160 mins

Review

BADLAND
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Clocking in at just under three hours, writer-director Francesco Lucente's earnest attempt at making an Iraq War-era COMING HOME — or perhaps more accurately, a ROLLING THUNDER update — says many things at once without much perspective or clarity.

Discharged "under conditions less than honorable," Army reservist and veteran of the first Gulf War Jerry S. Rice (Jeremy Draven) returns from the Iraq War a broken man. He and his unit were charged with perpetrating a horrendous, My Lai-type massacre of innocent men, women and children in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, an atrocity they didn't commit but for which they all took the fall. Now back in the badlands of Montana, in the rusted-out trailer he and his hectoring, unsympathetic and hugely pregnant wife, Nora (Vinessa Shaw), call home, Jerry finds himself stranded and alone on a different kind of battlefield. Plagued by nightmares, nose bleeds and crying jags, Jerry sees enemies on all sides: his boss (Patrick Richards) at the convenience store, who accuses Jerry of stealing propane; the best friend (Tom Carey) who framed him for the theft; and now, Nora. Unbeknownst to Jerry, she's not only been socking away the money from their sons' (Jake Church, Louie Campbell) paper routes, but also the cash Jerry has been giving her to pay their mounting bills — a stash she'll no doubt use to make a quick exit as soon as she gets the chance. When Jerry finds the roll of bills hidden in her bra, he snaps and commits an unthinkable crime: He shoots Nora and their boys to death. Jerry is about to shoot their youngest child, Celina (Grace Fulton), when the gun jams just long enough for Jerry to come to his senses. Jerry slashes Celina's palm and, smearing her blood across the seats of his pickup and some articles of her clothing — which he then tosses in a nearby river — stages the child's death and vanishes with her into the American hinterlands. After days spent on the road and hiding out in an abandoned cabin and a series of lonely, out-of-the-way motels, Jerry and Celina land in a congenial Idaho town where Jerry hopes to settle until the heat is off. He takes a job as a short-order cook at a local diner while ordering Celina to remain hidden inside their motel room. For the first time since murdering most of his family, Jerry's life achieves a semblance of normalcy, but personal entanglements with the diner's amorous owner (Chandra West) and the town sheriff (Joe Morton), a Marine reservist who, like Jerry, is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, threaten to blow Jerry's cover and his barely contained cool.

Lucente has a lot of important things he'd like to say about the plight of returning veterans who come home to find their jobs illegally filled, their families in financial crisis and their minds and spirits broken by all they've seen and done. None of this is specific to the Iraq War, nor is it particularly germane to the story Lucente actually tells. When he does directly address the ongoing war, he's preachy and irresponsible. Much confusion still surrounds what occurred during the devastating siege on Fallujah in November 2004, and to reach back to the painful memory of 1968's My Lai Massacre to imagine an even worse atrocity occurring in Iraq in order to motivate Lucente's fictional character doesn't help. At least Brian De Palma's controversial REDACTION is rooted in a documented incident. Aside from his uncertain western American accent, British actor Jamie Draven gives an impressively controlled performance, though there's little about Jerry's subsequent behavior to link him to the man we first see murdering his wife and sons. And that final coda is nothing short of a lame cop-out. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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