Narrative Review The Lucky Ones Directed by: Neil Burger Cast: Rachel McAdams, Michael Pena, Tim Robbins Time: 1 hr 51 mins Rating: R
Imagine a world in which free will does not exist. Sucks, doesn’t it? Now imagine that a free world does exist, but you have no access to it. For 111 grueling minutes, three lost souls find themselves amidst a slew of situational reminders that though they may not be traditionally free, it’s their choices that decide whether or not they will one day know what it feels like to decide for themselves.
Plotting a course not too dissimilar from that taken in Stop Loss, Neil Burger’s The Lucky Ones is a tale of three soldiers (McAdams, Pena, Robbins) whose luck has all but run out. Stuck fighting a war that few still believe in, they are unable to break free, and despite attaining wounds on the field of battle, are granted a mere 30 days to regroup for yet another tour of duty. Burger’s vision isn’t so much to cinematically trash-talk the war as it is to satirize the people who blindly judge those who fight it. It’s an interesting angle that he pulls off in subtle visual comedic moments, and once involving a cameo from John Heard that’s too deliciously funny a scene to spoil with explanation.
This is a story about three different people in very similar predicaments. Tim Robbins nails his role as Cheever, a middle-aged veteran whose patience with the longevity of military life has reached the end of the road, only to realize life as a civilian can toss you just as many curves. By dumbing down her innate wit and masking the grace that stole hearts in both The Notebook and Wedding Crashers, Rachel McAdams plays Colee, a wounded soldier whose simpleton naivety is sincerely depicted to a T of unfailing diligence, and heartbreaking innocence. The real story in this film is Pena. The Chicago native steals the show as a “wounded in the dick” soldier too proud to admit he’s not as much of a Patriot as he’d like his military family to believe. What we find in the chemistry-laden banter between McAdams and Pena provides a ripe simmer of sexual tension brewing just below the surface of carefully crafted dialogue that makes us believe their story. There is always an underlying subtext to the dialogue that reveals the nerves a U.S. Soldier is trained to ignore, despite the absolute innate necessity to address their personal issues.
Though the story provides almost too many side stories to mention, each ensemble member forces you to care about each tangential plot twist. It’s impossible not to keep your eyes on Pena who doesn’t so much act the part, as he owns the part. You can’t do the research to pull off a role like this and make it look as easy as he does throughout. In a genre where subtlety is key, it’s what his character cannot say that keeps you hooked to his story slightly more than the other characters. It’s difficult to describe how impressive it is when an actor can fool you into believing it’s hardly an act at all.
Final Score: 6/10