Coming Home (1978) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, sexuality, some nudity and violence
Running time: 92 min.
Cast: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford, Robert Carradine
Director: Hal Ashby
Screenplay: Nancy Dowd, Robert C. Jones, Waldo Salt
Review published January 25, 2005
Vietnam was a hot topic for movies in 1978, the same year that would see the release of the Best Picture winner, The Deer Hunter. Unlike that movie, Coming Home deals almost exclusively with he plight of wounded soldiers trying to adjust with life back in the US, many unable to walk or take care of themselves, and more troubling, their mental problems often exceed their physical ailments in keeping them from functioning in society again. Given Jane Fonda's (Nine to Five, Agnes of God) oft-reported anti-war (and some say anti-soldier) activities during the Vietnam War, she probably wouldn't be the #1 choice from actual vets to star in a film about the experience of coming home again. Still, taking the film for what it is, she does a terrific job in the role as a woman that has profoundly changed by witnessing the troubles of veterans, especially in the way the government and media tried to sweep them under the rug and forget about them.
Fonda plays housewife Sally Bender, whose husband (Dern, The 'burbs) is an Army Captain that has left to join the forces fighting in the Vietnam conflict. Lonely and feeling useless, she ends up volunteering in a local hospital for former US soldiers that have come back physically or mentally incapacitated, where they experience overcrowding, lack of adequate supervision, and little funding for the things like wheelchairs and other necessities. One of the patients in particular catches her eye, Luke Martin (Voight, Runaway Train), an old schoolmate of hers from high school. Paralyzed from the waist down, Luke and Sally soon become friends, and in their minds, they are even closer, although they both know that Sallys husband may return one day and end their intimate relationship. Through Luke's eyes, Sally's entire outlook on life begins to transform, as the sees firsthand the government's sending of young men to die or suffer permanent injury, while they do little to help them out when they can no longer fight.
Academy Awards would rightfully go to Voight and Fonda for their very sensitive and troubles portrayals of two lonely people in need of each other, especially in their fight to educate the world around them about things they'd rather not know. The subject matter is very interesting as a depiction of things most media outlets refused to cover in their daily news, possibly prolonging the war by keeping public outrage at bay. The Oscar winning screenplay is character rich, although many of the best insights are ad-libbed by actual veterans in a very poignant opening scene.
Coming Home is a far more intimate portrayal of veterans than many other films that would later be made. The graphic depictions of the maddening effects of the war are never shown, leaving us to rely on our own imaginations as to what the actual experience may have been like. It's really the story of two people learning to cope with the realities of the community, country, and world they live in, as they realize that love of country and criticism of it aren't mutually exclusive things. It is also a touching love story in its own right.
Coming Home will be most welcome for those looking for an interesting and thought-provoking story about Vietnam veterans, and those that fought in the war that can overlook Fonda's involvement should find that much of the film rings true about their own experiences. The film only lapses during the occasional moment where things seem to go too over the top to believe outright, but given the emotional turbulence of the time it was made in, such indulgences seem forgivable. Voight is in absolute tip-top form here, and if there were no other reason, Coming Home merits viewing just to see him act. A sensitive movie for a sensitive subject.
©2005 Vince Leo