‘Homecoming’ Review: Hitchcockian Flair Dominates Riveting And Resonant Thriller

 

Audio enthusiasts are probably familiar with Homeland, the critically acclaimed podcast series featuring the voices of Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer. That story is now a Julia Roberts headlined series, where the visual word takes a bigger stage over the pod’s immersive soundscapes. But not to worry, this freshman series carves its own space in Heidi Bergman’s  expansive and all too unpredictable world.

Julia Roberts in “Homecoming” – Credit: Tod Campbell

The Homecoming Transitional Support Center is headed by Heidi Bergman, a caseworker who aims to give veterans a safe transition back into civilian life. Though she works with various soldiers, she forms an immediate bond with Walter Cruz (Stephan James, delivering a fearless, breakout performance), a youth who’s seen the horrors of war but continues to persevere. Cruz’s close colleague Shrier (Jeremy Allen White), with harmonica in tow, believes something is amiss at Homecoming, and his paranoia is probably not good for the environment’s overall morale. Bobby Cannavale is Colin Belfast, Heidi’s slick talking, hard driving boss who will do whatever it takes to ensure Homecoming’s success, and his business minded approach consistently is at odds with Heidi’s nurturing nature.

Bobby Cannavale in “Homecoming” – (CR: Jessica Brooks)

The 10 episode narrative has a non-linear construct, as the story switches from Heidi’s time at Homecoming to four years later, when she’s a waitress living with her over protective mother (Sissy Spacek). Thomas Carasco (Shea Whigham) is a Department of Defense auditor who’s determined to uncover the truths behind Homecoming, and even if this long paper trail leads nowhere, he’s determined to see things through. In the podcast version, Carasco’s role was a relatively minor one, but his participation this time around is on a much grander scale. One particular episode, in which Carasco’s investigation is on a collision course with Bergman’s activities, is a Hitchcockian tour de force from Esmail and company (Esmail trumps La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s ode to Vertigo with a sequence I’ll probably watch over and over again!)

Shea Whigham in “Homecoming” – (CR: Hilary B Gayle/SMPSP)

To delve deeper into the storyline would be a horrible, as one of the primary joys (and strengths) of Homecoming lies in the gradual uncovering of its ever evolving mysteries. If you believe you have a grasp on where the series (or for that matter, the podcast) will take you, think again (or maybe simply don’t think and enjoy this ambitious tale’s surrealistic journey).



Credit goes to Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) for replacing the aural seductions of Homecoming (much of the podcast’s wtf moments come from a series of voicemail messages) and putting his own visual spin on the matter. Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, Esmail infuses his tale with long takes, God’s point of view shots, and music cues taken from composer Pino Donaggio (a frequent De Palma collaborator).

Sam Esmail and Bobby Cannavale in “Homecoming” – (CR: Jessica Brooks)

The world inside the world construct of Esmail, which he employs on Mr. Robot, is also front and center with Homecoming, and fans of suspense thrillers (as well as Mr. Robot) will probably love the storyteller’s latest effort. Although the obvious discussion is the reunion of My Best Friend Wedding stars Roberts and Dermot Mulroney (who plays Heidi’s clingy and off putting boyfriend), Esmail takes things a bit further with Homecoming with his affection for Donaggio and De Palma. Sissy Spacek starred in De Palma’s Carrie, which was scored by the aforementioned Donaggio. Sydney Poitier, who plays Colin Belfast’s scrupulous wife Lydia, starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, and Tarantino employs Donaggio’s Blow Out track “Jack & Sally” during one of Poitier’s scenes (Blow Out was directed by De Palma).

Another huge surprise behind Homecoming is that Roberts, though the obvious star in the series, essentially hands over the scene stealing, showier stuff to her co-stars (Whigham and James deliverer the show’s most memorable work, as far as season one goes). Ironically, in the podcast version, it was Keener’s performance which, in my opinion, was the strongest aspect of Homecoming, and that dynamic is flipped within this iteration.

Julia Roberts and Stephan James in “Homecoming.” Credit: Jessica Brooks

Whether you listen to the podcast or check out the series (or hopefully both, Homecoming is a riveting narrative that never lets up, and you’ll be mesmerized right up through the story’s final moments. I’m excited for what’s around the corner with Homecoming, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Take a seat with Heidi Bergman and learn a thing or two about her world, and if you’re immediately pulled into the mysteries of this perplexing (and often heartbreaking universe), don’t kill the messenger. 

***Homecoming debuts on Amazon November 2.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5