McAdams shines in Iraq war drama

BRUCE KIRKLAND - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:59 AM ET

At a casual glance, The Lucky Ones looks like an Iraq War film, which might well be box-office poison in today's movie market.

The opening scenes are set in a battle zone, dramatizing a firefight that leads to U.S. casualties.

But casual looks are deceiving. Director and co-writer Neil Burger's drama uses the war as a springboard to tell a darkly funny, and sometimes profoundly moving, story of the men and women who are the warriors. He charts how the residue of their soldiering affects the minutiae of everyday life. So the vast majority of the story is set back in the United States, not in the Middle East.

Funnily enough, in terms of structure, The Lucky Ones is actually a road movie. The title refers to soldiers who survive action and are sent home. We meet three strangers who are about to return to the U.S. after treatment in Germany for injuries suffered in Iraq. The three could not be more different as personalities, and their situations could not be more at odds.

Tim Robbins plays the wily vet, a cynic who despairs over the pointlessness of the war and yearns to be back with his family. Will he be able to pick up where he left off?

Michael Pena plays the eager, by-the-book soldier who believes he is amassing leadership skills that will lead him to success in his future life. But he is mortified because his battle injury makes him impotent. Will his hot girlfriend now reject him?

Rachel McAdams plays the mercurial G.I. Jane, a southern cracker with contradictory liberal leanings. She is naive and even innocent on one level, especially with her religious beliefs that embrace faith-healers, and yet she can out-drink, out-swear and out-slug most men. But will she ever find a sense of family?

The performances of these three are simply marvellous, which is fortunate because they carry the entire film together as a threesome. McAdams in particular is a revelation.

Not that we doubted she could act, because this rising London, Ont.-born star is a real professional, not just a beautiful starlet. The trick is that this odd, impossible character should have been out of her grasp, yet McAdams seizes her with relish and gives her a multi-layered dimension that is just breathtaking.

The plot is simple in approach. Through circumstances, including a blackout that keeps airplanes grounded in New York, the three principals are forced on a cross-country road trip in a van. The road trip brings out their best, their worst, their idiosyncrasies and their new friendship network.

The episodic road trip also allows director Burger -- who co-authored the script with Dirk Wittenborn -- to plunk the three down into situations with other people who coax out their secrets, fears and desires. For something that looks so simple, The Lucky Ones plays it in a sophisticated manner.

In the end, The Lucky Ones will leave you with a rich mixture of joy and melancholy, much like life when things don't always go your way. The fate of our three protagonists might surprise you. But I guarantee you will care, perhaps even deeply. Just remember, this is not an Iraq War film. It is a humanist drama.

(This film is rated 14-A)


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