Homecoming Web Review: Moody thriller with a generous pay-off

Nov 06, 2018, 08:10 IST | Letty Mariam Abraham

It's clear that Julia Roberts-starrer Homecoming may not be everyone's cup of tea. But those who wait patiently till the end will be rewarded generously

Homecoming Web Review: Moody thriller with a generous pay-off
Julia Roberts in Homecoming

U/A: Thriller
Dir: Sam Esmail
Cast: Julia Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, Shea Whigman

There's a fair amount of excitement and hype that precedes a Julia Roberts movie. When the trailer of Amazon Prime's original series Homecoming — which also happens to be Roberts' web debut — dropped online, the curiosity it generated was natural. After binge-watching the entire series, it's clear that the Sam Esmail-directed venture may not be everyone's cup of tea. But those who wait patiently till the end will be rewarded generously.

In a departure from fast-paced thrillers, Homecoming focuses more on its evolving characters than on the next plot twist. Esmail keeps viewers gripped as his narrative alternates between the present and flashbacks. Roberts plays Heidi Bergman, a counsellor who helps soldiers transition back to the civilian environment and deal with their PTSD at the Homecoming facility, or so she believes. Cut to present — she is a waitress, living with her mother, waiting for life to take its course. Sure enough, Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigman), the Defense Department's compliance officer, comes knocking to turn her world upside down with his questions.

Whigman tries to figure out what transpired at the Homecoming facility, four years ago, only to find people lying, deflecting blame or denying the truth. As he puts together the jigsaw puzzle, one piece at a time, it appears that what seemed like a rehabilitation programme was an experiment run by a multi-national company in cahoots with the government. Bobby Cannavale is splendid as Colin Belfast, the amoral supervisor of the facility. Stephan James, who plays the young soldier Walter Cruz — one of Roberts' patients, makes your heart melt.

A shining beacon of hope, his dreams exude positivity and optimism. The bond Roberts and James share may not be by the book, but it lends soul to the story. If the show benefits from a uniformly stellar performance by the entire cast, it also owes as much to the director's unique vision. Known for his stylised frames, Esmail brings his signature aesthetic to this psychological thriller too — it is, after all, through his lens that we see the two different timelines presented in different formats. Eli Horowitz, Micah Bloomberg and Esmail along with writers Cami Delavigne and Eric Simonson show that it is the material, not the medium, that matters, as they beautifully adapt the original podcast by the same name to a visual offering.

Clearly, the show has to its credit several strengths. Which, finally, brings us to the big question — does it do justice to Roberts? And vice versa? The answer to both is a resounding yes. By playing a character who is at once desperate to understand her past and dreadful of what she might unearth, Roberts has, in one fine stroke, shed the image of America's sweetheart. Her acting prowess comes to the fore as she journeys from calm to crumbling, from poised to paranoid, taking you along.
Having said that, Homecoming may not be everyone's go-to option for viewing — its slow pace may not find takers in an audience that expects a plot twist at every turn. It is an acquired taste with a promising pay-off.

Watch Homecoming Trailer

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