ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Coming Home (1978) dir: Hal Ashby Blu Ray (Eureka!)
A love triangle during the Vietnam War
This award-winning drama, set in the late 1960s during America’s Vietnam War era, features Jane Fonda as Sally Hyde, the wife of a U.S. Marine Captain named Bob (Bruce Dern). When the latter is called to the front along with his best buddy Dink (Robert Ginty), Sally has to face life alone with only the latter’s girlfriend Vi Munson (Penelope Milford) for company.
She decides to occupy her time by volunteering at a local veterans’ hospital. There, she meets Luke Martin (Jon Voight), an embittered cripple. Their relationship soon blossoms into love and the latter begins to find ways to deal with his physical and emotional anguish. However, when she also finds a distance growing between herself and her husband when she goes to visit him in on leave in Hong Kong.
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Vietnam through feminine eyes
Along with The Deer Hunter, Coming Home was one of two major “coping with the after-effects of serving in Vietnam” movies to achieve much critical and commercial success in 1978 and subsequently go on to dominate the 51st Academy Awards. Nonetheless, it seems to have fallen slightly in the other film’s shadow to the point of becoming almost forgotten about over the years. There are various factors which might explain this. Firstly, its three wins and eight nominations put it in second place behind The Deer Hunter’s five wins and nine nominations. Secondly, it has received a subsequent critical backlash from some quarters, who have accused its central love triangle story of being overly sentimental and hackneyed. Thirdly, none of its main cast’s careers have endured over the years in quite the same way as those of The Deer Hunter’s Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep or even Christopher Walken.
Fourthly, and perhaps most interestingly, it has a very different (almost diametrically opposed) feel to The Deer Hunter - and one that doesn’t sit so well with the war movie’s predominantly male audience demographic. Michael Cimino’s classic is a grandiose, audacious piece of directing, whereas Hal Ashby’s film has a considerably more modest and, at times, almost documentary-like feel. While Cimino’s focuses mainly on the psychological aftermath of war, he still falls back on sensational scenes involving bloody violence and intense combat. Ashby, meanwhile, keeps his narrative POV well away from the carnage going on in the background. A movie about war (even if it speaks out against war, as is most emphatically the case here) inevitably faces an uphill battle if it doesn’t actually depict it onscreen. After all, as François Truffaut once said, “There’s no such thing as an anti-war film”. Ergo, there is always the sense that the voyeuristic spectacle of battle is something that needs to be delivered, even if it is depicted in an overtly critical light.
Coming Home is an unusually soft and feminine entry in the genre - something that makes it a remarkably refreshing film to revisit. The main narrative interest here isn’t in Dern’s uptight military careerist, nor even in Jon Voight’s excellent, deservedly Oscar-winning turn as a paraplegic victim who gradually becomes psychologically re-empowered despite his broken body. It’s in Jane Fonda’s turn as a woman who becomes increasingly fixated on the devastation she notices in the broken male figures around her. Her companionship with the younger and less emotionally-hardened Vi, who has to deal with the psychological scars borne by her brother (played by Robert Carradine), is also quietly touching.
Ashby’s approach to acting, dialogue and characters really comes to the fore. Performances feel naturalistic and improvised throughout, ensuring that the characters’ intense emotional shifts always come across believably. While the three main stars (Fonda, Voight and Dern) turned in the showiest work here, even Roberts Carradine and Ginty managed to imbue their (considerably smaller) roles with a genuine sense of inner humanity. It’s a pity that the latter two subsequently squandered their potential with a series of unworthy movies.
While Coming Home is marred slightly by moments of overt preaching (Jon Voight’s character even gets to make a big cautionary speech in front of a group of schoolchildren near the end) and the kind of period pop soundtrack which has become such a Vietnam movie cliche over the years (needless to say, you should expect to hear umpteen hit songs by The Rolling Stones during the course of the runtime), it remains an emotionally-intelligent drama which never loses sight of its human scale. It’s not The Deer Hunter but it shouldn’t be dismissed either.
Runtime: 126 mins
Dir: Hal Ashby
Script: Waldo Salt, Robert C. Jones, Nancy Dowd
Starring: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford, Robert Carradine, Robert Ginty
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Both the image and sound are impeccable here. Detail and colour are superb.
There’s a decent package of extras here including two audio commentary tracks. The first one, conducted by film writer Scott Harrison, is brand new to this release. The second features actors Jon Voight and Bruce Dern, plus cinematographer Haskell Wexler. There are also two archival featurettes plus a collector’s booklet with writings by Scott Harrison and film critic Glenn Kenny.
This acclaimed yet subsequently overlooked film is well worthy of this Eureka Entertainment rerelease. While fans of combat scenes may be disappointed, those looking for an intense drama will be well rewarded.