The Lucky Ones **1/2
Directed by Neil Burger
Written by Neil Burger and Dirk Wittenborn
Rachel McAdams as Colee
Tim Robbins as Cheever
Michael Pena as TK
Rated R for language and some sexual content.
"The Lucky Ones" is a bit of a different vehicle for Neil Burger, the rather visionary director who did one of my favorite 2006 films "The Illusionist." He has opted for a calmer more character driven film, instead of the thick and twist heavy plot of his magician project two years ago. This is a road movie, primarily, and one of the better films in recent memory about Iraqi War soldiers coming home-one is grimly reminded of the awful "Home of the Brave" from a couple of years back. But Burger doesn't drive an anti-war statement down the audiences throat, deciding to focus more on the growth of the characters on this journey and not on the war itself. This doesn't mean that he skips out on a hidden agenda completely, but the more 'statement driven' scenes seem rather awkward and out of place.
The films story does not cover any kind of new ground, but its three main characters and actors play their parts with gentle ambition. It revolves around three soldiers who meet together while getting on the plane back to the United States. The first one we meet is TK, who is recovering from getting hurt in the leg, giving his 30 days leave. He is very worried about telling his girlfriend that he is having trouble getting an erection after the accident. While on the plane he meets Cheever, who is finally out of service and is looking forward to retiring with his wife and high school son. And lastly there is Colee, who is also on 30 days leave and recovering from a gunshot wound in the leg. She is bringing a guitar to her dead soldier boyfriend's family. When they get to New York all of the flights have been cancelled due to a black out, they decide to join together and take a road trip across country-bringing Cheever to his wife in St. Louis, and TK and Colee to Las Vegas where they both have their seperate agendas.
The problem with Burger's script is that at times the story does not seem to flow naturally. Several moments that help advance the story seem like they occur simply because it will move the plot along. For example, it is no spoiler to reveal that Cheever's wife wants a divorce. It's obvious something is going to happen there because Cheever makes it to St. Louis only a half an hour into the film. He also learns that his son has gotten in Stanford, and that it will cost an additional 20,000 dollars for him to go. Instead of seeming like a natural event, its clear that this is all Burger could come up with for a reason for Cheever to go along with TK and Colee to Las Vegas. And when Colee goes to an appraiser to find out how much her guitar is worth (which her ex claimed came from Elvis himself!), we learn that someone got 22,000 for it at an auction. It's very clear that the guitar could play a part in Cheever getting the money. Or will it? In addition the sexual tension between TK and Colee that develops throughout seems a bit unneeded-it neither adds to the characters or the story, and its almost a dead thread. Thankfully, Burger avoided any mention of a love triangle between the three of them, as that would have tacked on more useless subplots.
What really does give the film its worth are the three gentle performances by Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Pena, who spend about ninety percent of the film together. While their road has some rather familiar endeavors-getting the keys stuck in the car, ending up in jail at some point, ending up in a bar fight, etc-its the very natural portrait of these three characters that makes up the real emotion of the piece. And as for the ending, I must say Burger surprised me with his ultimate fate of these three people, and the final scene is unexpected and yet very fitting. Things do end up alright for the three of them, clearly having us decide if they truly are 'lucky' or not. And the cynical minded would clearly say that their luck ran out at the end, but as they exit the movie the audience can understand that they chose this path, trying to make their own luck along the way. "The Lucky Ones" is often a retrend of the 'road' movie, but its realistically portrayed characters and thankfully unpreachy script really allows it to hold up as an often entertaining and sometimes moving film.