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In 1968, gung-ho army captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) charges off to the war in Vietnam, keen to kill for his country and to fight for glory on the battlefield. His unworldly wife Sally (Jane Fonda) is left behind in Los Angeles, but volunteers for work in a veteran's hospital and gains political savvy from Luke Martin (Jon Voight), a paraplegic former schoolmate who is bitter that the nation he fought for has forgotten his sacrifice, and that of others. Sally and Luke fall in love, but when Bob returns from the warfront a broken man, Sally has decisions to make about her infidelity and the impact it will have on those around her.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
In 1972, an outraged America clamoured for Jane Fonda's neck when, in the midst of the Vietnam war, she visited Hanoi and cheerfully posed for pictures straddling a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun and made broadcasts for Radio Hanoi in which she denounced American soldiers as war criminals. They called her "Hanoi Jane," cried that 1962's Miss Army Recruiting should be tried for treason, and they didn't begin to forgive her until the tide of public opinion against a senseless war led to the withdrawal of American troops in 1975. Feeling somewhat redeemed, Fonda instigated a project aimed at dealing with the consequences of the war, as seen through the eyes of a soldier's wife who becomes politicized by what she sees.

Again Jane could not avoid controversy. Fonda had commissioned a screenplay by Nancy Dowd, who was outraged when the repentant activist toned down the politics and turned up the heat on a love story. "The original was the best writing I've done," fumed the feminist Dowd when her story was diluted into "a male supremacist film" in which "men choose between ideas and women choose between men."

Instead of what might have been, Coming Home may be best remembered as the first mainstream film in which its star, in a famously erotic scene, was awarded an Oscar for simulating an orgasm on screen. Sally's choice comes down to the dud (Dern) or the stud (Voight), whose sex drive, quite remarkably, isn't diminished by his lack of movement downstairs. It was therefore not surprising when Voight shared in Fonda's Oscar joy. Originally he was cast as Sally's fitful husband, who lusts for action and glory while champing at the bit to get to 'Nam. "I feel I'm off to the Olympic Games, representing the United States," he gushes.

But when Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Sylvester Stallone all declined the pivotal role as the paraplegic Luke, Voight let his ambitions be known by confining himself to a wheelchair. United Artists reasoned that Voight hadn't had a hit since Deliverance (1972) and so they offered Fonda a million dollar bonus "to find a star," but by then she had already made up her mind. And she was right to stand firm, because Voight's career-best work belongs in the pantheon of Oscar greatness. At first he is sullen, bitter and prone to destructive rage, but once he mellows and regains control of his anger and self-pity he betrays an underlying gloom over the broken body that will burden him for the rest of his life. It is an astonishingly sensitive and intelligent portrayal. With a faltering voice his final impassioned speech to a bunch of high school kids, who just might sacrifice their guts for glory one day, is both moving and memorable.

Director Ashby (Harold And Maude, Being There) argued fiercely with Fonda on the set, and the ending, which neither could agree upon, has the whiff of unhappy compromise; the final shot of Sally and friend Vi (Penelope Milford) pushing their trolleys into a supermarket is so incredibly mundane that it seems like a mistake. Would the FBI really have put a tail on Luke, after he chained himself to the gates of the recruitment depot and have then told Bob about his dalliance with Sally? And why is Vi's brother, a suicidal mental case thanks to the traumas of war, in the same hospital ward as the paraplegics and amputees? Coming Home came in the aftermath of a regrettable war when America, shocked by the callous indifference to its battered veterans, was deep in guilt and shame. The moody soundtrack, studded with Beatles classics (Hey Jude, Strawberry Fields), The Rolling Stones (Ruby Tuesday) and Jimmi Hendrix (Manic Depression), is to die for, but too often the songs intrude on crucial dialogue.

This wasn't the film that anybody wanted but its heart is in the right place, on its sleeve. With eight nominations it was considered a shoe-in for the Best Picture Oscar that year, but it was blown away by a late arrival, another film about Vietnam, which was roundly roasted for its inaccuracies and its racism. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War condemned The Deer Hunter and the events portrayed in it as "the war that never happened." Fonda, campaigned against it and after it won the Oscar, she rather churlishly said: "I still haven't seen it, but ours is the Best Picture." It wasn't, but the irony about how a politically nave film could win over one that was politically muted could not have been lost on her.

Published January 20, 2005

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(US, 1978)

CAST: Jane Fonda, John Voight, Bruce Dern


SCRIPT: Waldo Salt, Robert C. Jones, based on a story by Nancy Dowd

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.81:1 aspect ratio. Dolby digital 2:0.Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. Subtitles: French, Finnish, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Swedish


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: MGM Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: January 19, 2005

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