Review: Three soldiers readjust to 'normal' life in 'The Lucky Ones'

Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams play soldiers returning from Iraq in The Lucky Ones.

Photo by By James Bridges

Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams play soldiers returning from Iraq in The Lucky Ones.

The trio of Iraq War veterans who take a road trip across America in “The Lucky Ones” are nice, fairly well-adjusted people. Unlike many of the characters in such “War on Terror”-inspired films as “Redacted” and “Stop-Loss” and “In the Valley of Elah,” these soldiers aren’t racists or nutcases or profanity-spewing rednecks. Even their war wounds function in the story as war wounds rather than as metaphors.

Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams play soldiers returning from Iraq in The Lucky Ones.

Photo by By James Bridges

Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams play soldiers returning from Iraq in The Lucky Ones.

When three very different U.S. soldiers find themselves on an unplanned road trip across America, they form a deep bond that may be the closest ...

Rating: R for language and some sexual content

Length: 104 minutes

Released: September 26, 2008 Limited

Cast: Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins, Michael Peña, Katherine LaNasa, Molly Hagan

Director: Neil Burger

Writer: Neil Burger, Dirk Wittenborn

More info and showtimes »

The three soldiers meet in a New York airport, where they’ve been stranded by a blackout that has delayed flights out of the city by days.

Tim Robbins is Cheever, the older family man whose time in the service is over. He’s eager to return to his wife in St. Louis.

The other two soldiers are on leave, planning visits to Phoenix and Las Vegas. TK (Michael Peña) is coping with a shrapnel injury to the groin that has damaged his sexual ability. Colee (Rachel McAdams) is a rather naive Southern charmer on a mission to return her dead boyfriend’s heirloom guitar — it may once have belonged to Elvis — to his family.

The soldiers rent a car together, and “The Lucky Ones” becomes a low-key, well-made, often amiable, occasionally intense and ultimately moving study of three people readjusting — at least temporarily — to “normal” life in the U.S.

In what we know must be a contrast to Iraq, the landscapes through which the trio travels are mostly clean and suburban and, of course, safe. This is an America of McMansions and McDonald’s. “It all looks so good, I don’t know what to order,” Colee says at the counter at Mickey D’s, and the moment rings true. It doesn’t feel at all like a cynical example of product placement.

Over and over, people say “Thank you” to the soldiers, to acknowledge their sacrifice. The movie, like the soldiers, accepts the sincerity of most of these people, even as it acknowledges the inadequacy of the gesture and the cluelessness of many of the speakers.

Scripted by Dick Wittenborn and Neil Burger, “The Lucky Ones” is not the movie one would have expected Burger to make after his previous film, “The Illusionist,” a complicated period film with Edward Norton as a charismatic magician. The plot twists that occur during “The Lucky Ones” aren’t exactly unpredictable, but they’re also not pat or implausible. The direction is functional, workmanlike. Burger never steals the spotlight from his characters. You might want to tell him “Thank you,” too.

“The Lucky Ones” is playing exclusively at Malco’s Studio on the Square.

© 2008 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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