MOVIE REVIEW | ***FONDA WEEK*** Coming Home (1978)

Coming Home

“I have killed for my country, or whatever, and I don’t feel good about it. Coz there’s not enough reason, man, to feel a person die in your hands, or to see your best buddy get blown away.”

Actors passion projects… You’re really taking a big risk when you decide to watch one. Sometimes their passion gets in the way and they worry more about getting it made and being faithful to their passion than they do about making an entertaining good movie. So when I found out about noted anti-Vietnam war proponent Jane Fonda making a movie about returned Vietnam servicemen, I had more than few reservations about Coming Home.

Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) goes off to fight in Vietnam, leaving his wife Sally (Fonda) in California to figure out what to do with her life. Freshly arrived from Vietnam, and freshly physically crippled, is Jon Voight as Luke Martin. Staying at the same veteran hospital is Robert Carradine as the freshly mentally crippled Billy. Friends with Billy’s sister, Sally ends up visiting the hospital and meeting Luke. Initially depressed and lashing out at the world, trying to find someone to blame for his injuries, Luke’s growing relationship with Sally is the key he needs to build a new life for himself.

Visiting Bob while he’s on R and R in Hong Kong, Sally gets the first glimpses of the emotional toll the war is taking on her husband. When he returns home after suffering an injury, the full extent of his PTSD is revealed. When he’s informed of the not so secret affair Sally and Luke have been conducting in his absence, his erratic behaviour becomes all the more threatening.

Coming Home has prestige-Oscar-bait written all over it, and the stench is a little overbearing. Sure, this might be the best Jon Voight performance I’ve ever seen, the same for Dern, and Fonda nails her part too. The only problem is, everything about this movie is so obvious, so in your face, so blatant in what it’s trying to do and say. Even if I agree with a movie’s message, constantly hitting me over the head with it is a sure fire way to make me look for reasons not to like it.

And while the dialogue and story might be a little on the nose, they’re nothing compared to the soundtrack. I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying the Coming Home may have the worst movie sound track ever assembled in the history of cinema. I don’t mean the songs themselves are bad. In fact, the Coming Home soundtrack is littered with classics by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel and Steppenwolf. It’s how these songs are used that’s so egregious.

This is the laziest, most obvious, predictable use of all of these songs that it finds a way to make them all sound bad, despite the amazing pedigree. This soundtrack is so in your face, even the makers of The Big Chill would think it was a little bit much.

Fonda and Voight both won Oscars, with Dern also nominated. I totally agree with Voight’s win.   I think the only other classic Voight role I’ve seen is Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. And while it’s worthy of its classic status, it’s a little cartoony and over the top. As Luke Martin, the initial scenes of anger and frustration made me think I was in for more scenery chewing. But as he comes to terms with his injury and finds reasons to carry on, he became a much more interesting character and made me realise why Jon Voight was once considered one of the greats.

Watch Coming Home for the performances. Watch Coming Home for the awesome 70s aesthetic that makes anything from that period look great. Watch Coming Home for cheesy melodrama (if that’s your thing). Just don’t watch Coming Home if you’re in the mood for subtlety.

Coming Home
Written By – Hal Ashby
Directed By – Waldo Salt, Robert C. Jones

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