Urgent, angry and shot guerrilla-style, “When I Came Home” is a look at homeless Iraq War vets. Limited arthouse play should result from festival successes and newspaper editorials. Strong political bent might also limit the docu’s exposure on public television.
More reportage than cinema, “When I Came Home” focuses on the story of Herold Noel, a self-professed hustler who went to Iraq in 2003 and returned to New York with post-traumatic stress disorder. Unable to work, Noel quickly found himself and his family living in his SUV, and the Veterans Administration unable, or unwilling, to address his needs.
Director Dan Lohaus presents Noel’s story with the supposition that Noel represents the tip of the iceberg of Iraq vet homelessness — he interviews others, including Navy veteran Nicole Prince and Army veteran Nicole Goodwin, but Noel, thanks in part to the exposure he got via the New York Post in 2005, becomes the logical primary subject.
One of the film’s drawbacks is beyond Lohaus’ control: Noel is more far more a figure of sympathy than inspiration. He quickly grasps the ways media coverage can improve his situation and then blows his expectations out of all proportion. Veterans advocates like Paul Rieckhoff, and even Public Enemy founder Chuck D, bring Noel down to earth.
Lohaus brilliantly sets up this story of neglect by interviewing a still-homeless Vietnam vet inside his lair under the 101 Freeway in Hollywood. Thousands of Vietnam veterans are still homeless, we’re told, 30-plus years after the end of that war.
Production is appropriately rough-and-ready.