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With a generation now becoming adults in the long shadow of September 11th, the world for them has been one of constant change, with wars raging for more than a decade and the threat of terror a way of life. Plenty of movies have taken to telling stories of loss and courage in the wake of the attacks, some on the battlefields and some at home. With Heroes Don’t Come Home, the tragedy hits on both fronts in a film that strikes a strong balance between friendship and loyalty, love and loss, and while it might have its flaws, is nonetheless an emotional film that earns it way.
On the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, September 2001, Tim (Andrew Casanova) is in school, knowing his dad is in one of the towers. He rushes home to find his mother in tears and a message on the machine with a heartbreaking farewell. He decides to enlist and encourages his best friend Ben (Tyler McElroy) to follow with him, despite protests from Ben’s parents, including his father who fought in the Gulf. Problem is, Ben still needs his their signature for him to enlist and they won’t so he waits but in the interim, gets accepted to college. As the years pass, much changes the boys with triumphs and crisis both in Afghanistan and at home, forever changing who they are and their friendship.
Written and directed by Jake Hulse, Heroes Don’t Come Home is an unconventional anti-war movie in that it doesn’t focus on one soldier but rather two men who take distinctly different paths in the aftermath of tragedy. It’s a disjointed narrative threaded in patchwork, as it tells a story with nearly no exposition but with gentle visuals and transitions that introduce new characters or settings with no setup, trusting the audience to be able to follow along. We see the boys lives shift is dramatic ways and what the consequences of choices have when old friends face each other again. Naturally, war changes Tim, but not going changes Ben as well, and piecing together the broken bonds is not so easy.
Hulse accomplishes much with his storytelling style, breaking the narrative into small vignettes, connected by ancestry to the main plot but each somehow independent of themselves. This is a very human story and while there are trappings of the genre, the film is hardly a traditional war film with very little action in actual conflict, instead a series of highly-effective moments that slowly fill in the gaps of two lives shattered by a world turned into chaos and then again in the years that follow as they struggle to become men.
Heroes Don’t Come Home is a slow-paced film that boils to a whole different kind of conflict as these once inseparable friends must face the truth about who they are and where they’ve come from. While it runs about twenty minutes too long and loses a bit of momentum in the middle, there is much to admire about the story and the performances, with both Casanova and McElroy offering two solid turns. It’s a genuinely moving story that avoids many of the clichés of both the war and the returning vet film and is well worth a look.
Movie description: Heroes Don't Come Home is a 2017 drama about how the events of September 11th forces two friends to confront the teenagers they were and the men they've become.
Director(s): Jake Hulse
Actor(s): Andrew Casanova, Tyler McElroy, Robert Schorr