"When I Came Home": The Best Film Yet About Iraq War Veterans [VIDEO]

This post, written by Josh Bolotsky, originally appeared on Open Left

My situation is right now! Not five years from now, not two years from now, not next year, not next month, it's right now!

- Herold Noel, a homeless Iraq War veteran, roughly 5 minutes into When I Came Home

If No End In Sight is the best film yet to be produced on the effects of the Iraq War on the Iraqi people, then Dan Lohaus' When I Came Home is the best film yet to be produced on the US troops who fought that war. Not that there's much competition - the Iraq war is much like the Vietnam War, in that no matter how one views Hollywood's politics, it's hard to deny that there haven't been a lot of films about Iraq. Barring one or two documentaries, the films about the Middle East made in the last few years almost invariably limit themselves to other conflicts (e.g. the brilliant Syriana, the decidedly less brilliantThe Kingdom).

Consider - more wide-release films, by a sizable margin, have been made about the Gulf War, in which the US campaign lasted a mere 42 days, than about the Iraq War, where US involvement is approaching five years. Hollywood, it seems, is much less likely to sponsor fictional films about a war that provides little room for cheering. (Granted, it could be more of a comment on the larger media environment of the last few years - at one point in the film, decrying the lack of media interest in seriously dealing with homeless Iraq War veterans, Noel asks if they might care more if he was Brad Pitt.)

But I digress. I suspect that, even if accompanied with a number of Iraq War films appropriate to the War's effect on our national conversation, When I Came Home would still be one of the best (if not the best) films on the topic.

The aforementioned Noel is the subject of the film, which follows him and his toddler through a rough (to say the least) year of homelessness in NYC after a seven-month tour of duty in Iraq ends in Post-Trauamatic Stress Syndrome. We cringe as Noel, who lives in a Jeep, is passed like a hot potato through a Kafkaesque mass of city, state and federal agencies which seemingly made no preparations to deal with the increased influx of troops. He doesn't want to expose his son to the squalor of the shelters - but he won't get Section-8 federal assistance without living in the shelters for a substantial period of time. The VA conclusively confirms that he has PTSD - while simultaneously denying him disability-status. And so on.

But then, something happens - someone has a connection to the NY Post, they do a cover story on Noel, and all of a sudden, he's designated by all sorts of media outlets as a voice for a new generation of homeless veterans. And here is where When I Came Home gets really interesting.

Lohaus' brilliance is knowing exactly how we expect this story to turn out - Noel gets his story out there, finds help, gets his life back in order, and becomes an inspiring figure, rallying for recognition of homeless veterans everywhere. He knows that we desperately want this, need this, after the lachrymose first half of the film. So when it doesn't happen as a result of the media exposure, Lohaus knows precisely how to subtly tweak our expectations and then dash them.
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