Maybe sometime in the next decade, the Iraq War will get its Platoon or its Full Metal Jacket, but for now, we’ll have to keep waiting for a memorably incisive, dramatically successful cinematic treatment—at least, from a fiction film (documentaries are, happily, another story). Neil Burger’s The Lucky Ones makes no effort to fill that void. Instead, it seems calculated to correct another, related problem: the anemic box-office of Iraq-themed films.
The Lucky Ones flees from the ham-fisted, inelegant didacticism of In the Valley of Elah, Stop-Loss, and Redacted to more conventional and more marketable territory—in this case, the road-trip buddy picture. For Burger, Iraq is not so much the subject as the context, and The Lucky Ones is less Coming Home than Little Miss Sunshine with nicer wheels and army fatigues. It’s packaged to please, not to probe.
As The Lucky Ones opens, T.K. (Michael Pena) rides in a military vehicle with his fellow soldiers—it’s the film’s only scene actually set in Iraq—boasting about his sexual prowess; when fighting breaks out, a piece of shrapnel catches him in his penis. The irony is plain. After some recovery, T.K. begins a month-long leave and meets Colee (Rachel McAdams), also on leave, and Cheever (Tim Robbins), headed home for good after a falling port-o-potty causes a back injury, on a plane to New York. When this improbable threesome arrives stateside, all flights are canceled due to a blackout, so the three soldiers decide to share a rental car. Colee and T.K. are headed to Las Vegas—she to track down her late boyfriend Randy’s parents, he to find an extremely talented sex worker to help him recover his ability to perform. Click here to read all of Chris Wisniewski’s review of The Lucky Ones.