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The War at Home
Starring Kathy Bates, Martin Sheen, Kimberly Williams, and Emilio Estevez
Produced and Directed by Emilio Estevez

The War at Home is based on the play Homefront, by James Duff. Yes, I was familiar with the play and no, I will not make comparison to the original. It is to the credit of producer Emilio Estevez that he allowed Duff to write the screenplay adaptation.

The War at Home is the second impressive film to deal with war issues this year. Before writing this review, I stopped for a minute to reread my review of Courage Under Fire. At the time I lavishly praised that film, which I still stand by, but I did it for all the wrong reasons. I praised it because the Gulf War meant nothing to me. I praised it because I could sit back in an uncomfortable theater seat and watch a story being played out. I called it "a mother of a drama."

The War at Home, for any of us to whom Vietnam was more than a story, is an emotional mindfuck.

For those of us who saw neighborhood kids go off to war and get blown to bits for no damned reason at all; who spent every year in high school waiting for the damned thing to end and wondering what to do if it didn't...

I don't know how to finish that sentence. We were all boys whose fathers had fought in WWII. Whose grandfathers, most of them, fought in "the Big One." We were all boys to whom John Wayne was a hero in Wars that were Good. It was no different for the men of the film's Collier family, whose battle genealogy dates back to the Civil War.

The Colliers have the perfect-on-the-surface 1950s life in the film's setting of 1972. Bob Collier (Martin Sheen) fought in the Second "Big One." His son Jeremy (Estevez) went to Vietnam and came back -- changed. Not the way he was "supposed" to, the way he would have in the 1940s. There is no soldierly camaraderie in the household. Jeremy is aloof, and screams at night. He won't work, and barely makes the effort to go to a local college.

Maurine (Kathy Bates) is Jeremy's mother. She does all the things a mother who stays at home is supposed to. She cooks, and makes sure that everything is in its place and that God is revered. She treats her almost fully grown children, including Jeremy's slightly younger sister Karen (Kimberly Williams), as if they were ten. Karen knows that something is wrong, and tries to make the connection to help, but she doesn't know how. It is no different for Bob or Maurine.

I won't lie to you. If you don't have any kind of Vietnam experience -- and I missed it by a year so mine is just tangential -- The War at Home may miss its mark. I hope it does not. I was not the only man sobbing in the theater, and as I write this two hours later, my jaw is still clenched tight. It is Estevez' job as director to get the kind of performance out of his own biological father that is anathema to any man who loves his child. He did. Martin Sheen's performance -- at times amusing, touching, and terrifying -- is the best I've seen from him in years. It is matched note for emotional note by Kathy Bates as a woman who is, as she is described, "waiting for her emotional breakdown."

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. But all movies that make more than a dent in my Oscar nomination list get the same rating.


Director. Actor. Actress. Adapted Screenplay. I ain't tellin' nobody what's on my "Best Film" list. For that you'll have to wait.

And to the old ladies who laughed as they walked out of the theater, a very upset Cranky says "You can all go rot in Hell."

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