Click here to return to the main site.

Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Coming Home (1978)


Starring: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford, Robert Carradine and Robert Ginty
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £19.99


Certificate: 18
Release Date: 15 July 2019

The war in Vietnam was planned before World War II ended and Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945. As soon as the island of Okinawa had come under U.S. control, supplies and equipment began to be stored there for the land invasion of at least 500,000 men to storm Japan – which never happened.

When O.S.S. operative L. Fletcher Prouty saw Navy ships hauling this array out of Okinawa he assumed to the harbour master it was all headed back for the States. “Hell, no! They ain’t never goin’ to see it again! One half of this stuff… is going to Korea and the other half is going to Indochina.” In Korea that was Syngman Rhee, in Vietnam it was Ho Chi Minh. He was America’s ally. For awhile anyway. (JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, © 2009 Skyhorse Publishing.)

It was the dawn of the new ambiguous war, a wispish objective, ongoing, no victorious conclusion. Think: every U.S. war since, up to its finest examples in the Middle East. This is the war that benefits the mercantile government and its transnational sponsors with an endless cash flow.

The problem was for the people who had to fight the war, the soldiers, their wives and families, who found themselves awash in confusion over why they were sacrificing and losing their loved ones. This is the crux of director Hal Ashby’s classic study on the homeland effect of the Vietnam war, Coming Home. With a script presided over by Waldo Salt (Rachel and the Stranger, 1948; and after triumphing over blacklisting: Midnight Cowboy, 1969; Serpico, 1973) and cinematography by Haskell Wexler, this is the classic on the domestic chaos Vietnam imported to American life.

It is the template for the societal inventory of pain from that war and every war since, wars of ambiguity, unless one was a stockholder or a cocoon dweller in the government administrative elite. Coming Home is about the poor bastards who had nothing to come home to.

There is a late scene where Bruce Dern’s cuckolded Captain Bob Hyde, Hollywood’s leading tragedian, is in a bar, looking up at the war being covered on television. Dern’s long stare culminates with the cultural autopsy that it’s nothing like that. In those lean spare words he sums up the disparity between here and there and the futility of trying to explain the difference, compounded by the awareness that most of the nation sheep don’t want to know anyway.

Hyde has come home to find the loyal patriotic wife he’d left, Sally, has fallen in love with a paraplegic veteran, Luke. Jane Fonda is Sally and Jon Voight is Luke. Sally has gone to work in a vet’s hospital (unflinching reality here) as a supporter of her husband and the war. Voight has become a changed man, no legs and no belief in what he lost them for. He does not believe he can ever be with a woman again. The character arcs here are girdered with unavoidableness. Her sensitivity changes her politics, her patriotism. His bitter loneliness becomes the redemptive hope of relationship realized.

Then Capt. Bob comes home. The triangle of pain is excruciating and wonderfully portrayed by these three actors. Fonda’s believability through all stages of her character’s evolution makes one forget her personal politics. Public negativity over her trips to Hanoi was still fresh in the minds of most Americans (and still is occasionally brought up) yet her conveyance of believability and struggle of soul was accepted in the movie’s first run. Voight, as a vet who has come to be a slogan-silencing authority for the sake honesty, is disarmingly eloquent. And their love is the only viable truth with Dern’s Capt. Bob.

It is Dern’s work here that crowns the movie with humanity, power and unassailable pathos. His is the hardest role. He has to find meaning in the meaningless. And in the sincerity of the wife who has betrayed him, and her lover who has no legs. Dern provides the gravitas for Fonda and Voight to believably stay in dramatic orbit. He turns this into a Bruce Dern picture.

One can’t help remembering Fonda’s accounts of returning from Hanoi and regularly being cavity searched by LAPD and other authorities at the airport. She was a model of cooperation. My contacts with that police department have told me photos of those searches still float around from the confidential files as office entertainment. For Fonda to bring such humanity and compassion to this work underscores her artistic stature, no matter what anyone thinks of her politics.

Eureka’s remastered print is superlatively engineered. The special features are piquant, insightful and loaded with personal perspective. One can only imagine what Ashby would think of it. I think he would be pleased.


John Huff

Buy this item online