On Blu-ray from Mon 15 July 2019.
There’s a bleak frankness to Coming Home that is clear from the very beginning. Never more obvious than in the opening documentary-style scene of real disabled veterans playing pool and discussing the war; all of which is being absorbed by a silent Jon Voight, strapped to a gurney and speaking volumes by saying nothing at all.
Made only a handful of years after the end of the Vietnam War, Coming Home was a passion project of long time anti-war campaigner Jane Fonda, and partly inspired by her friendship with author, Ron Kovic. The aim of which was to highlight the suffering of the people at home, as well as the returning veterans, and their injuries both physical and mental.
The film tells the simple but powerful story of a trio of disparate souls. Sally Hyde (Fonda), the dutiful but lonely wife of career soldier Bob (Bruce Dern), and Luke Martin (Voight), a paraplegic Vietnam veteran whom Sally meets while volunteering at the local Army hospital. Over time, their friendship grows into something closer, all the while Bob’s inevitable return from the war looms over events like the sword of Damocles.
It’s a masterfully casual evocation of real life, as never once do the main characters feel gaudy or the situation exploited for melodrama. Refreshingly, whilst Dern’s character is necessarily absent from much of the film, and comes across as abrasive and difficult, great pains are taken never to vilify him. In fact there’s a very understated maturity to the relationships and interactions between the two vying men and the objects of their affection in the films final act. The contrasts between the three leads constantly evoked, as each plays to their strengths as an actor, and it’s clear even now that the film is worthy of the three Academy Awards it won.
Moreover, the film shows a progressiveness that is surprising for the time it was made, never making light of the situation, or sidestepping potential awkwardness. Particularly, the movie should be congratulated for a sex scene between Fonda and Voight, that manages to be sweet rather than raunchy, and express plainly that disability is no barrier to sexuality and love. Similarly, the script manages to keep the sympathy for Dern very real, and avoids the obvious tack of making him into a monster, or a bully. Instead, it lightly but consistently highlighting his PTSD, and the sadness and hurt behind his stiff military exterior.
If the film has a let down it’s perhaps in the subplot surrounding Robert Carradine‘s nerve damaged and suicidal musician, which while still well intended, and acted, feels unnecessary. The other distracting aspect is the constant battery of contemporary songs, including multiple pieces from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield, as well as a sprinkling of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. While the music always fits the scene, sometimes it’s in a rather blunt manner, but also marks the film firmly in its place and time.
As to the Blu-ray package, all the usual collected extras you’d expect from a Eureka release are present, including the requisite trailer and a retrospective on the film. Although none of these are new material, they add a lot of flavour to an already fascinating project. particularly the commentary from Voight, Dern and cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who each talk at length about their experiences and thoughts on the film and Vietnam. All in all, this is a fine release of a somewhat forgotten gem of a film, with much to offer a modern audience.