October 2, 2008

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The Lucky Ones (R)
Three soldiers home from Iraq suffer the effects of their time away and their injuries in the field in The Lucky Ones, a low-key but relatively well done war movie.

Colee (Rachel McAdams) is a young solider with a leg injury and a month’s leave from her tour in Iraq. She plans to visit the parents of a boy she was close to, a fellow soldier who died saving her. Cheever (Tim Robbins) has a back injury and has been discharged from the military. He’s eager to get back home to his wife and teenage son. TK (Michael Peña) has a month off and a plan to see his fiancée. But his particular groin-centered injury has made him nervous about seeing her. The three soldiers find themselves aboard the same plane from Germany and stuck in the New York City airport together when all the outgoing flights are cancelled because of a power outage. They decide to drive together to St. Louis, Cheever’s home, where TK and Colee plan to catch flights to Las Vegas (Vegas being where Colee’s friend’s parents are and where TK hopes to find some “professional” help for his problem).

Naturally, the reintroduction to civilian life does not go as planned. Cheever’s wife informs him minutes after he arrives home that she wants a divorce, and Cheever’s son tells him he’s been accepted to Stanford — and needs $20,000 right away for the tuition. The highly controlled TK is getting ever more nervous about his lack of control over his wienie, and Colee is in denial about what is waiting for her at her boyfriend’s parents’ home — she’s hoping they’ll more or less adopt her.

The best feature fiction films about this Iraq war — and about the “War on Terror” — have been not about the politics (like the horrible gasbag that was Lions for Lambs) but about the people. All of about six people saw Stop-Loss, a film about traumatized soldiers facing a return to Iraq that came out earlier this year, but it was a surprisingly smart movie about soldiers and their families. The Lucky Ones has even less politics than Stop-Loss. It doesn’t comment on the rightness or wrongness of the war or say whether it’s taking too high a toll. It simply says that there is a toll, and here, for these three people, is what it is.

Peña, McAdams and Robbins all offer engaging portraits of their characters. Despite its rather Hollywood cast, The Lucky Ones has the look of a low- budget independent, which adds to its bare-bones, just-the-facts feel. It’s an undemanding character study that lets you make up your own opinions about the bigger picture. B

Rated R for language and some sexual content. Directed by Neil Burger and written by Burger and Dirk Wittenborn, The Lucky Ones is an hour and 55 minutes long and distributed in limited release by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.