Review: The Lucky Ones

The Lucky Ones

Director Neil Burger’s follow-up to his romantically clever The Illusionist, The Lucky Ones, is a wry character study about three American soldiers posted in Iraq. Like his first movie, this small-scale picture is involving. Watching an Army trio’s road trip to Las Vegas—on leave from service in Iraq—is easy.

Tim Robbins plays Cheever, an honorably discharged soldier with a bad back. Michael Pena portrays T.K., whose wounds are a more delicate subject, and Rachel McAdams plays an impetuous, if innocent, Army private named Colee, a hothead who limps from her leg injury. They meet on a flight to New York City. Like America in the 21st century, it’s downhill from there.

The Lucky Ones, laced with irony, is not deeply profound in dramatizing the journey the three take to their individual destinations. Their lives are ordinary. Their goals are modest. Cheever, returning to his wife in St. Louis, Missouri, aims to send his kid to a top university. T.K. wants to make love to his waiting fiancée. Colee wants to honor a fallen friend and she wants to be loved.

Who doesn’t? That universality keeps The Lucky Ones on track—for those who measure character by principles in practice and by the company one keeps. As a plainly contrived microcosm of the thousands of men and women assigned to be sacrificial lambs in Iraq—with no gain for the nation—one by one, the three brave soldiers stand for themselves, for one another, and, ultimately, for the United States of America.

That’s what good soldiers do and that’s what The Lucky Ones, in simple, subtle symbols, strives to remind the American moviegoer. From the moment they arrive in New York—where the lights have gone out, again—they anticipate bad luck and signs of national decline and they navigate and remove obstacles without a fuss.

This is America here and now. When the airports back up—as post-Homeland Security airports routinely do—Cheever almost instantly knows to get out before they start running out of food and water, instructing his companions, trailing him like a couple of sibling pups, that there will be “no free rides.” They rent a minivan and they’re on the way.

Of course, they interact with the people whom they are sworn to defend and it isn’t often pretty. On leave in the land of docile, dumbed-down citizens and bottlenecked roads run by the government, Colee, Cheever, and T.K. contend with barflies, a car wreck and a party hosted by a faith-healer follower. Not to mention the hailstorm.

They buck up and deal with the burgeoning problems, which multiply with the minivan’s mileage, applying the rules of the military to life in the U.S.A., repairing themselves along the way. Like Lions for Lambs, The Lucky Ones, placing today’s unsung American soldier front and center—for those who bother to give a damn—offers a soldier’s life for the sake of a meaningless military deployment as something to think about. Like Stop-Loss, it depicts the plight of youths in a no-win war, daring you to contemplate putting a soldier in purposeless places such as Tikrit, Anbar—or anywhere else in Iraq.

That alone makes The Lucky Ones, with outstanding performances and a smart script,a badly needed and humorously rendered reality check.

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