Welcome Home Soldier Boys (1971) * Post Vietnam War Drama *

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Welcome Home Soldier Boys (1971) 
Director Richard Compton's contemplative, unsettling character study of four Vietnam Vets is worth the wait for the movie's shocking denouement, but more for its staggering emotional effect afterward. The movie could be considered small in stature for its almost complete absence of drama in the first 2 acts, but the performances are distinctive and sympathetic--though many will object to the soldiers' treatment of a poorly written whore who services the group--and the tension that so effectively pervades the movie is intelligently established throughout, with plenty of symbolism. The men, at one point, are allowed to sleep off a night in the town jail by a kindly sheriff, further characterizing (and strengthening) their outcast status in a "normal" community. Another colorful detail is the ridiculous clothing the soldiers wear as civilians. The too-tight bowling shirts and slacks with cowboy boots mark them as tacky and unwanted within social arenas populated by young people, and even in one seedy hillbilly bar, their appearance suggests city slickers looking for trouble. This invites some threats from a Korean war vet about the fact that Korea vets "didn't come home before the job was done."--another interesting detail that creates tension. Luckily, Compton shows all of this with little heavy-handed foreshadowing, and nothing prepares the audience for the brilliantly insignificant event that triggers the movie's about-face near the end. And we're talking the last explosive 15 minutes. Obviously an influence on other revenge-minded Vietnam vet movies from "Rolling Thunder" to "First Blood", it's impressive to see the subject handled with such delicacy yet serve such a volatile climax. The finale is undeniably cathartic, more for showing the almost inexpressive soldiers finally "emote", but the lack of explanation for the men's spontaneous actions, and the lack of identification of any graspable enemy, is what makes the scene so powerful. And disturbing. Leave it to a 70s movie to paint even a standard revenge-action movie in complete shades of grey. "Vigilante Force" this ain't. Leonard Maltin and a few other unworthy critics slammed this movie, dismissing it as irresponsible and unoriginal, leading many to believe it another implausible action movie showing war veterans as psychos. But Compton's flick establishes some real characters. To witness their tragic, senseless actions unfold packs a lot more punch than your average Billy Jack movie. Paul Koslo, as a soldier who utters no more than two lines of dialogue, expresses more emotional discomfort in one shift of his shoulders than the entire cinema of Tom Cruise. Movie's climactic destruction is both shot and edited with the utmost ferocity.