Reflections of the Third Eye
15 May 2013
Coming Home (1978)
Topic: C
I checked another item on my Hal Ashby score card by viewing COMING HOME (1978). Arriving timely with its post-Vietnam concerns and realistic tone, this used to be one of his most widely respected works, though I'm not sure what its standing is today. In any event it is appropriate that I didn't get to see this until now, as it's not a movie for a popcorn teenage mindset. My expectations were pretty high, and basically I thought it was a very good and engaging movie. It wasn't entirely successful however, and my main reservation is with Bruce Dern's part, which seemed poorly outlined compared to the two main characters (Jon Voight and Jane Fonda). Dern delivers his usual overly expressive, silent movie-like acting, which works in some films (like Black Sunday) but hardly so in the delicately balanced world of Hal Ashby.
A sensitive director like Ashby ought to have felt that Dern was the wrong actor to solve the problem with the poorly outlined character, and it's also a curious casting choice in terms of screen presence. The production team would have been wise to pick someone that looks like a marine officer, like Powers Boothe, or Scott Glenn, or Stacy Keach ,or someone like that. Bruce Dern looks like a liberal arts college teacher and lacks the efficient rationality that officers, especially ones with combat experience, would be assumed to display. This might all work better on a re-watch, but it felt to me like a certain magic seeped out the back door due to the Dern factor.
Jon Voight on the other hand is pretty awesome, a reminder of how good he was when his star was still rising. Much of his more recent work tends to have a certain laziness or lack of commitment to it. And it was a nice, possibly deliberate irony to cast 'Hanoi Jane' Fonda in a movie like this. The triangle Voight-Fonda-Dern is the engine of Coming Home, and as you would expect from Ashby, the scenes are painful and powerful with understated precision. The one scene that didn't convince me was where a supposedly psychotic Dern threatens his estranged wife Fonda while addressing her like a Vietnamese enemy. This looked very awkward and broke the spell, and I doubt any actor could have pulled that off. The movie ends on an effective note with a semi-improvised monologue by Voight about the horrors of war that must have looked dubious on paper, but works thanks to Voight's precise performane and the thematic backdrop that Ashby has created. There's also a terrific music score that includes two Buffalo Springfield songs. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:20 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:46 AM MEST

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