TORONTO—It’s no secret that movies about the war in Iraq have had a tough time finding an audience. The tone has generally been grim—which makes sense, given the material—and doesn’t inspire people to line up at the box office. The Lucky Ones, the latest movie about the American military’s involvement in Iraq, doesn’t set foot in the war zone but instead follows three returning soldiers as they cross the U.S. trying to get home.
There are two big surprises. One is the humour and the other is the presence in the cast of Tim Robbins, one of filmdom’s most vocal antiwar advocates. He plays Sgt. Cheever, a veteran of the Iraq war who is returning home to a wife and son he hasn’t seen for almost two years.
On leave are Colee (Rachel McAdams) and T K (Michael Peña), who hitch a ride with him. As they cross the country, they discover that although Americans are not fond of the war, they are polite and almost comically thankful that someone else is doing the fighting. (The film opens tomorrow.)
In an interview in a Toronto hotel, Robbins says that before he read the script he had concerns that moving easily between drama and humour would be hard in a story about returning soldiers. He says that he is a fan of those who put themselves in harm’s way, but he felt that the movie should tell their story as realistically as possible while being accessible to audiences.
“I was not interested in doing a film about the pain of an experience at the expense of the humanity of the characters. The thing that resonated immediately was that it was about three people who were unlike each other but found themselves on a trip together. That is already kind of fun, and even though they are all returning from an intense experience, they don’t really talk about it.
"That was something that was really important to me, because that has been my experience with a lot of veterans. At the end of the day, they will talk to you about that stuff but really they just want to have a beer and shoot the shit, and that, for them, is more healing than venting all the time.”
Robbins took advantage of the fact that the movie was shot throughout the U.S. to find out whether or not the attitude toward the war is as entrenched as some would have us believe. He says that what he found surprised him.
“I hate hotels. I walk around towns and I go to bars and hear music and I have to say that ”˜yahoo’ guy is not out there. A vast majority of people said, ”˜Thank you for doing what you are doing.’ I just couldn’t find the radical right. It gave me an insight into what has occurred the last couple of years. They have a very loud megaphone but they have no numbers. Those people who theoretically support the war just aren’t out there.
"It makes me feel that the right wing was very effective in their propaganda and they intimidate people into silence but they never had the ground support. The other thing I have a problem with is that we have been told for the last 10 years that there is a left-wing media conspiracy at the network level. But the people who sold us the war were the major networks because they had the credibility.”
Robbins may be mellowing as he prepares to turn 50 in October. He says that if he has changed his attitude toward those who disagree with him, it stems from an incident that occurred five years ago. In 2003 the Baseball Hall of Fame cancelled an appearance he was invited to make on behalf of the film Bull Durham as a result of his activities against the war in Iraq.
“I was surprised that two of the most prominent people who had my back were people whose politics I don’t agree with. They were Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner. That was a weird time, and it would have been easy to crawl into a wall and ignore what happened. But those two stepped forward and did press and I admire and respect that.
"As for whether I respect those who disagree with me, if you are going to stand there and tell me that there is still a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, I am sorry, I have no tolerance for that. You can lie to yourself a million times, but that doesn’t do anything for me. So there are some people who have blinkers on to the truth and I just can’t respect that.”