Coming Home Blu-ray Review: Romantic War Drama at the Top of Its Game

There is nothing subtle about Hal Ashby’s Coming Home. It is not an anti-war film, it is, specifically, an anti-Vietnam War film, and considering the cast and those behind the scenes, it could never be anything else. Bruce Dern plays Captain Bob Hyde who is about to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. His wife, Jane Fonda as Sally Hyde, is preparing to live on her own for the first time in her life and rents an apartment by the beach, buys a sports car, and begins to volunteer at the local VA hospital, at first, simply to keep busy. At the hospital, Sally begins a relationship with a former high school friend Luke Martin (Jon Voight) who has returned from the war a paraplegic and has very strong feelings he’s been sold a bill of goods.

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Each of the three main characters would have come off as stereotypes if it weren’t for the incredible performances of all three. Bob Hyde is the career military man who sees Vietnam as a fast way to promotion and heroism; Dern plays this with thoughtfulness, a sort of tempered seething that makes you worry for his ability to hold himself together. Sally Hyde is the Captain’s wife who is supposed to keep house and present herself as a military spouse in all manners; Jane Fonda is extremely subtle here compared to some of her other roles of the era (Klute comes to mind). And Luke Martin is the young idealist who came back from the war a paraplegic who has lost his faith in the military and its goals, especially goals that tear young men apart; Jon Voight moves flawlessly from the “rabid” anti-militant who pushes himself around on a cot using pool cues to the wheelchair bound, thoughtful, anti-militant who gives anti-war speeches to high school students.

The script keeps the characters on the rails when it would be easy for them to roll off. Bob Hyde seems like he could take a gun and shoot his wife and her lover. Sally could leave her husband for what might seem the love of her life. And Luke traverses the thin line of happy, healthy man on one side, and disgruntled, possibly dangerous, activist on the other. But the script, having gone through many hands over many years does show some restraint in these areas. Bob would never use his gun in a way antithetical to his military beliefs. Sally is a military wife, and that belief is inviolate. Luke is too intelligent to completely go over the edge. You can see in his eyes from the first scene that he may go through hell, but he’ll keep on trucking out the other side.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary by Actors Jon Voight and Bruce Dern with Cinematographer Haskell Wexler
  • Coming Back Home – Featurette – a half hour of Voight, Dern, and Wexler discussing the film.
  • Hal Ashby: A Man Out of Time – Featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • The Other Side of the Mountain Trailer
  • The Landlord Trailer
  • Joy House Trailer
  • Runaway Train Trailer
  • After Dark, My Sweet Trailer

Ultimately, Coming Home is more of an in-your-face anti-war film than a character study, but those characters are so well-rounded, so realistic, we can forgive the film for its small foibles.

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Greg Hammond

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