Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Coming Home

Based on the novel by George Davis, Coming Home is the story about a the wife of a Marine captain who falls for a paralyzed soldier while her husband away fighting at the Vietnam War. Directed by Hal Ashby and screenplay by Robert C. Jones and Waldo Salt, with additional work by Rudy Wurlitzer, from a screen story by Nancy Dowd, the film explores the world of life at home as a woman deals with the Vietnam War as she meets a paraplegic soldier who is still scarred by the events of the war itself. Starring Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford, and Robert Carradine. Coming Home is a powerful yet captivating drama from Hal Ashby.

Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) is the wife of Marine Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) as he is set to leave for service in Vietnam which he believes will help things despite some of the events that happened including the Tet Offensive. After Bob’s departure, Sally deals with her loneliness as she befriends the bohemian Vi Hudson (Penelope Milford) who helps her get an apartment off the base and near the beach. Sally decides to volunteer at a nearby military hospital where she meets various soldiers who have been injured or paralyzed by the war including a man named Luke Martin (Jon Voight) who had been an old classmate of hers years ago. Luke has become paraplegic as he’s angry over what happened to him as Sally tries to figure out what to do with him.

The two become friends where they slowly open up to each other just as the events of 1968 were happening. With Luke finally in a wheelchair and starting to leave the hospital to be on his own, their friendship blossoms as Luke also tries to help out Vi’s troubled younger brother Billy (Robert Carradine) who is suffering from the traumas of the war. Sally’s life starts to change as she gets a letter from Bob to visit her in Hong Kong for a week as she arrives to find Bob becoming detached. Upon returning home, Sally learns some devastating news that has Luke chaining himself to a Marines recruiting building in order to not have young men being sent to war. Sally bails him out as the two begin to fall in love though the two try to figure out how to tell Bob about their relationship once he returns home. Bob eventually returns home with a wounded leg as he starts to become more unhinged as he learn about Sally’s affair with Luke.

Films about the Vietnam War is often about the horror that happens in combat as well as a lot of the political issues that occur. With this film, it is about war from the perspective of three different people as it’s set outside of the battlefield in 1968 where a lot is happening. Yet, it’s more about a woman dealing with her husband going out in war while meeting a paraplegic soldier who had been to war. She starts out as an officer’s wife that has only known that kind of life. When she’s alone, she figures out what to do as she only knows that military life and the only way to be close to that world is to volunteer at a military hospital. Once she volunteers and meets this paraplegic man, her outlook in life changes as does her lifestyle.

The screenplay by Robert C. Jones and Waldo Salt definitely does a lot of work into exploring the dynamics of its three central protagonists without trying to involve any kind of political rhetoric about the Vietnam War. Instead, it is about these three people caught up in the chaos of war as they deal with war and its aftermath. For Sally, she starts to learn a lot of what Luke went through in the war as well as other veterans as she eventually asks for other officer wives to help out but they’re more concerned about doing other things. She eventually does things herself with help from Vi as she becomes someone the veterans at the hospital love to have around including Luke.

Luke starts out as this very disillusioned man who felt angry over what happened to him as he isn’t treated well at the hospital and upset at what is happening in the war. Once he meets Sally and the two get reacquainted after not seeing each other for years, Luke becomes a much friendlier person as he starts to rebuild his own life and find meaning again. The two eventually have a romance where Sally would experience things she didn’t have with her husband yet becomes conflicted about her loyalty to Bob. Luke understands this as he doesn’t want to cause anymore trouble yet they would be unveiled by something outside of them. Bob is a man that starts out as someone with a sense of idealism about his role as an officer but he starts to slowly unravel due to his experience of the war and comes home a wounded man not just in a literal sense but also emotional.

What Luke and Sally do to Bob isn’t the worst thing as they both wanted to be honest but it is what has already happened to Bob that just adds to what he is going through. Whereas Luke had started off as a man paralyzed by war and ends up regaining the will to live as he doesn’t let his paralysis affect him. Bob becomes a man that is paralyzed where he doesn’t know what or who to believe as he ends up being lost. For Sally, she is caught in the middle as she is in love with Luke but also loves Bob as she doesn’t want to cause more trouble though she is not the same woman that she was in the beginning of the film.

Hal Ashby’s direction is very engaging for the way he explores the after effects of war and how people try to change themselves in the wake of these events. Particularly as he opens the film with men playing pool as they talk about the war where it is established that this won’t be a typical film about war but rather the aftermath as everyone in that room is outspoken. Then it cuts to an opening credits scene where it shows Bob running around a military base to establish who this man is. Ashby’s direction is filled with a lot of imagery that revolves around war that is prevalent on the televisions and radio that also tells a world that is coming undone. Yet, he is more interested in the human drama that occurs where Ashby uses the camera to capture the chaos of the hospital that slowly becomes more peaceful.

The direction becomes more playful and much more open as it’s shot largely nearby San Diego and some bits in Hong Kong where it shows a lot of contrast to the world that Sally encounters with the two different men in her life. In Hong Kong, things are tense and chaotic where it’s also very crowded. In California, things are much freer as Ashby’s direction does contain an element of intense drama but also looseness in the scenes between Sally and Luke. Ashby also creates some compositions and moments where it is about the drama as it the film intensifies to some huge climaxes. Particularly when it involves the three protagonists as it’s followed by an ending that reveals how far these three individuals have gone to in the beginning. The ending does have a message but it’s not a heavy-handed one as Ashby tells it with a lot of simplicity and that is it. Overall, Ashby creates a truly mesmerizing and heartfelt drama about the after effects of war.

Cinematographer Haskell Wexler does brilliant work with the film‘s photography from the colorful yet lush look of the daytime exteriors to the more stylish approach to lighting for some of the interiors including the clubs that Sally go to. Editor Don Zimmerman does amazing work with the editing to play out the drama as well as some parallel montages to contrast the lives of the characters. Production designer Michael D. Haller and set decorator George Gaines do wonderful work with the sets from the look of Sally‘s home to the more chaotic look of the military hospital.

Costume designer Ann Roth does nice work with the costumes to play up the period from the more ragged look of Luke to the stylish clothes that Sally and Vi wear. Makeup artist Bernadine M. Anderson and hair stylist Lola “Skip” McNalley do terrific work for the look of Sally from her hairdo and makeup to showcase her transformation. Sound editor Frank E. Warner does superb work with the sound from the atmosphere of the clubs to the more quieter moments in the scenes between Luke and Sally. The film’s soundtrack is truly a delight to hear as it features effective use of music from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield, Simon & Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, Tim Buckley, Bob Dylan, the Chambers Brothers, Steppenwolf, Richie Havens, Big Brother Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The casting by Lynn Stalmaster is definitely a major highlight of the film as it features some notable small roles from Robert Ginty as Vi’s sometimes lover Sgt. Mobley and Robert Carradine as Vi’s troubled Vietnam veteran brother Billy. Penelope Milford is great as Vi who helps Sally deal with her loneliness while dealing with her own issues as she becomes a friend for Sally and Luke. Bruce Dern is brilliant as Captain Bob Hyde who is a man that has this idea of war is only to face the realities of what he’s facing as he becomes undone by these realities as he finds himself out of sorts with the world including his wife.

Finally, there’s the duo of Jane Fonda and Jon Voight as the two give very incredible performances in their respective roles as Sally and Luke. Voight displays a complexity to his character as a man wracked with the horror of war and feeling mistreated as he later finds a reason to live where he starts to take control of his own life and finally give his own perspective on war in a great finale. Fonda is radiant as this woman lost in her role as an officer’s wife as she tries to find a way to fill her time only to go through changes by what she encounters and deal with the harsh reality of war. Fonda and Voight have amazing chemistry together in the way they deal with each as well as the fact that neither character wants to cause more pain to Bob in the film’s third act.

Coming Home is an extraordinary film from Hal Ashby that features outstanding performances from Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, and Bruce Dern. The film is definitely one of the best films about the Vietnam War in terms of the troubling aftermath soldiers faces as well as what wives deal with as they’re at home wondering what will happen to their husbands. It’s also an engrossing drama that explores the world of loneliness as well as trying to find an identity in the wake of loneliness. In the end, Coming Home is a remarkable film from Hal Ashby.

Hal Ashby Films: The Landlord - Harold and Maude - The Last Detail - Shampoo - Bound for Glory - Being There - Second-Hand Hearts - (Lookin’ to Get Out) - (Let’s Spend the Night Together) - (Solo Trans) - (The Slugger’s Wife) - 8 Million Ways to Die

© thevoid99 2012


Chris said...

I remember Coming Home was better than I expected, especially the performances. Never knew Voight was such a good actor, and that soundtrack is indeed great. Had forgotten film was based on a novel. I'll give it a rewatch eventually.
I think it's a Hal Ashby film not many people know about today, a shame it hasn't been championed to the same degree as his other films have.

thevoid99 said...

Well, it was the one film of his that won some Oscars for both Jane Fonda and Jon Voight as well as a screenplay Oscar. I think Hal Ashby's other films during the 70s had more quirks and this one was more serious. I am planning to do one more Ashby film this weekend in Bound for Glory and then do Shampoo next year to complete my 70s Ashby filmography. The 80s stuff I'll do later on though I've seen a few of those films.