Richard Hankin’s expertly made “Home Front” is a tenderhearted documentary study of a returning Iraq war vet. By taking pains to be objective toward his subject — blinded, brain-damaged Army Ranger Jeremy Feldbusch — Hankin’s film allows the tragedy of the young soldier to speak for itself, and Feldbusch’s defense of the war to speak volumes. This rendering of judgment by being nonjudgmental may not move “Home Front” off the arthouse circuit prior to its eventual broadcast on Showtime, but it’s hard to imagine anyone protesting that the film is too partisan.
In their home in Blairsville, Pa., — a suburb of Pittsburgh, Feldbusch, his parents and friends desperately seek normality. In fact, the most disturbing and ultimately moving scenes in the film involve Jeremy’s father trying to re-introduce his son to things he’d done pre-war: bike riding, for instance, or — as incredible as it may seem — deer hunting. Jeremy’s use of a 44 magnum handgun with a laser sight is alarming enough, but when he loses his temper, it’s near terrifying.
Much of the film concerns Feldbusch’s work with the Wounded Warrior Project, a New York-based support group for damaged Iraqi war vets, run by fellow vet John Melia, who is an understanding and savvy presence. His reasoned viewpoints give the film proper ballast. Whether the wounded men he deals with sacrificed themselves for a worthy cause, he says, is something they are “going to have to answer for themselves.”
While “Home Front’s” subject may not be unique — indeed, films about the war in Iraq have become ubiquitous — it shows empathy, sensitivity and dignity toward its subject. And Feldbusch never waivers: Terrorism, he says, is the foe; the war is justified. Whether audiences cheer or groan depends on their point of view.