From “Home of the Brave” to “Stop-Loss,” “In the Valley of Elah” to “Redacted,” Hollywood has tried to lead movie audiences into the lives of soldiers in Iraq or newly home from the Iraq War.
But those audiences haven’t followed. And Tim Robbins, one of Hollywood’s most outspoken left-of-centers, has a theory.
“Could it be that people don’t want to think about this because we all allowed it happen, and there’s a complicity in that?” Robbins wonders. “That would make anybody uncomfortable.”
It’s a provocative thought from an actor who has never shied away from expressing a provocative thought. But the tall, soft-spoken Robbins, 49, has a disarming way of coming at a hot-button subject, be it his opposition to George Bush and the Iraq War or his support for Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader back in 2000, something that won him no liberal friends in Hollywood.
The demeanor served him well when he was researching his role for the new film, “The Lucky Ones.” Robbins plays an Army Reservist, newly home from the war, dealing with problems at home and the problems of fellow returning soldiers.
“When you first meet Iraq vets, they’re happy to talk to you about what they went through. But at the same time, they don’t. It’s nice to be back and not have to think about that. Their war experience is not the first thing out of their mouths. I like the idea of playing characters who hold onto stuff, their secrets, and don’t wear their heart on their sleeves.”
Do they know his politics?
“My experience has been that people have a real appreciation for what I’ve been trying to do, speaking out on this war, or they have a very adult and democratic view of my right to speak out, even if they disagree,” Robbins says. “The yahoo voice? I haven’t run into that. The only time I hear that shrill ranting is if I tune into Fox. They’re the very loud megaphone for a very small group of very angry people. Most of the people I meet are admirable and decent.”
“The Lucky Ones” seems like a natural choice for Robbins, who, as Georgia Public Radio critic Jackie Kershaw Cooper says, “balances roles in commercial films that appeal to the masses with message films that reflect his political bent.” “Lucky Ones” could fall into both camps, as a commercial studio feature and a political film coming out in a political year.
Only it’s not particularly political.
“There’s something very moving about the dignity of these characters, something noble about the choices my character makes,” Robbins says. “Aside from being a funny kind of movie, it felt like it could be a compassionate look at a part of our society we’re ignoring - returning veterans.”
His performance, he says, reflects what he learned from veterans of the war, some of whom would tell him of confidently going into battle with soldiers whose politics and worldview they didn’t share.
“There are no politics in a fox hole,” Robbins says.
Not so in movie theaters. Robbins may be a less divisive figure than a Michael Moore or Sean Penn, his fellow left-leaning Oscar winners. But there are still “people who are so infuriated over his anti-war stance that they would never go to see him in a movie regardless of how good it might be,” Cooper says.
So will audiences discover “The Lucky Ones”?
“It’s still a sensitive subject for a lot of people,” Robbins offers. “There have been some very good movies made. Susan (Sarandon, his life partner) was ‘In the Valley of Elah,’ a really good movie. But perhaps the psyche of the American public can’t take thinking about this right now.
“But you know, it’s important that we tell the story of who these people are that we send over there to fight. It’s too abstract to say, ‘I support the troops,’ without saying how far you’ll support them. I mean, do they support them to get their benefits when they’re denied? That’s supporting the troops.”