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The latest arrival in this fall’s seemingly endless barrage of Iraq War-themed films, “Badland” is an achingly self-important portrait of a returning Marine reservist who commits an unspeakable act in the name of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Written and directed by Francesco Lucente with a heavy heart and a heavier hand, this overlong, over-the-top dirge is being pushed — with pushed being the operative word — as an awards-season contender.
Precious few are likely to see it that way, if they see it at all.
England’s Jamie Draven is the damaged goods in question — a once-idealistic Gulf War veteran who has recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan and Iraq, a jittery shadow of his former self.
Jerry’s crying jags and nosebleeds elicit little sympathy from his bullying wife (Vinessa Shaw), who’s sick and tired of their dead-end trailer park existence, while his three young children become an increasing burden to him.
Then one day, unsurprisingly, he snaps, going on a cold-blooded shooting spree that leaves his wife and two of those kids dead.
With his surviving daughter (Grace Fulton) in tow, Jerry goes on the lam and starts over in a new town on the U.S.-Canadian border, taking a job in a diner run by the sympathetic Oli (Chandra West), who’s unaware of his horrific deed, despite all those news reports.
It’s only a matter of time before Jerry’s past finally catches up with him, and at a painfully protracted 160 minutes, “Badland” has oodles to spare.
When the picture gets around to its calculated socko ending, the viewer has long been pummeled into a state of numbness.
Each time Draven’s character so much as quivers an eyebrow, Carlo Varini’s camera, when it’s not paying obvious stylistic homage to Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” moves in close for the kill, prompting the Budapest Symphony Orchestra to swell accordingly as a mournful choir of operatic voices similarly rises to the occasion.
Before it all comes to a crashing end, Lucente tosses a Bruce Springsteen tune into the overwrought mix — no, not “Badlands,” but the more recent “Devils & Dust.”
Too bad he never took a cue from that war-themed song’s powerfully understated eloquence.
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