The Lucky Ones

Film Review: March, 2009

“If you find a friend on whom you think you can rely, you are a lucky man”*


The Lucky Ones is a modern day fable ala Candide and the classic Malcolm McDowell movie of a similar name (O Lucky Man) that provides a mirror into our humanity – an unconventional look at what defines love and family, the dichotomy between our predictable expectations and unseen possibilities triggered by a simple twist of fate.  Effectively but subtly woven into the fabric of the story is the bankrupt morality of the Bush-Cheney folly in Iraq and the deep canyons that separate class in America. The story unfolds in near real-time as three U.S. soldiers meet on the flight returning home from Iraq – two on 30 day medical leave following injuries and one after finishing his third and final tour of duty. They are then suddenly thrown together by a series of circumstances that in the course of just several days turn their lives inside out and upside down.

Cheever (Tim Robbins) is the middle aged career soldier eagerly heading back to his wife and teenage son. Colle (Rachel McAdams) is the young female soldier who is estranged from her family and is using her medical leave to locate and meet the parents of her boyfriend who saved her life and was killed in action to return his family heirloom guitar. TK (Michel Peña) is the confident, sometimes cocky African American sergeant inured in an ambush who’s heading to Vegas for help with a libido crisis so his girlfriend will not be disappointed. Three disparate lives heading in very different directions until after landing in NY they find themselves driving cross country together, due to the cancellation of connecting flights. Thus, the stage is set.

We were at the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently and as is typically the case there, just stumbled upon a familiar work: an original early mock up of the Hieronymus Bosch painting, “Garden of Earthly Delights” which I remembered from my youth. I think I remember wondering what sort of hallucinogens did they have back in 1504 because the images are incredibly bizarre. Anyway, the original painting which I saw at the Prado in Madrid is about 12 ft wide but the working version at the Met was rather understated – maybe 3 ft wide which makes the amount of tiny detail squeezed in even more amazing. Bosch captures his vision of earth, heaven, and hell in each of the three sections of the triptych. So when thinking about the theme of The Lucky Ones, which confronts life’s good and evil the connection struck me as relevant (not to mention something interesting to look at).

While together physically, each character goes through their own cycle of crisis, struggle and catharsis that brings them together in spirit. The love and connection to family they sought in returning home evaporates rapidly in the hot sun but is gradually replaced with organic bonds among them.

Iraq is not central to the theme but no one knows why we’re there other than “to survive.” The smell of its collateral damage wafts in the wind throughout the movie- the lingering wounds to flesh and psyche, the post traumatic stress nightmares, the death of relationships, an attempted suicide, and the knowledge that escaping its grip is both necessary and impossible. Everyone at home is quick with patronizing platitudes of gratitude for their service but no one is really paying attention or cares – it’s easier to tune in to a mindless game show or talk about golf at the country club party or be consumed by an evangelist minister.

But yet despite delving the depths of despair and a less than story book ending, the three do find a reason and we are left with the sense that we are somehow, lucky, in this, the best of all possible worlds.

* From “O Lucky Man”, O Lucky Man soundtrack, Words and Music by Alan Price, 1973.

Images from Hieronymus Bosch, “Garden of Earthly Delights (Ecclesia’s paradise)” , c.1504, taken from, public domain.

Published in: on May 13, 2009 at 9:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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