[box cover]

Coming Home

During the first scene in Hal Ashby's Coming Home (1979) a Vietnam veteran is derided by fellow vets as stupid and/or deluded for feeling proud of his service in the southeast Asian war. Despite some good performances, the film never rises above this simplistic, emotionally provincial perspective, eschewing its own potential in favor of potshots and easy sentiment. Jane Fonda stars as a VA hospital volunteer torn between her love for a troubled paraplegic in her care (Jon Voight) and her responsibility to her gung-ho heel of a husband (Bruce Dern, whose hair would never be tolerated in the military) commanding troops overseas. Both Fonda and Voight nabbed reasonable Best Acting Oscars for their fine performances, but the combination of Waldo Salt's unambitious Oscar-winning screenplay with Hal Ashby's maudlin direction constantly threatens to drown the actors in tedium and self-righteous antiwar stupidity. Fonda and Voight do bring an effective tenderness to their roles, but Dern's character is thrown to the wolves, with the actor customarily performing as if in the middle of a proctology exam, and offered no redeeming qualities beyond egregious pathos. For a key lesson in how to overdirect an emotional scene, compare Dern's overwrought final sequence with James Mason's similar, yet eloquent, exit in 1954's A Star is Born. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler adds texture with his typically evocative and tactile photography, but the pretty good period soundtrack is ineffectively utilized. MGM does a good job memorializing Coming Home, with a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Included is a commentary track featuring the separately recorded recollections of Voight, Dern and Wexler, and two featurettes: the backslapping retrospective "Coming Back Home" (24:53) and "Hal Ashby: A Man Out of Time" (15:24), profiling the deeply overrated hippie auteur. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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