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Review: 'Until They Are Home' fails to complete its mission

The documentary about locating the remains of America's war dead on foreign soil has heart but little appeal.

August 16, 2012

The compact yet meandering documentary "Until They Are Home" has its heart in the right place, but its filmmaking is all over the map.

With soaring music, archival footage and Kelsey Grammer's serious baritone narration, the movie champions the dedicated efforts of JPAC — the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command — to locate the remains of America's war dead left behind in foreign lands.

Director Steven Barber focuses on the Pacific atoll of Tarawa, where a fast, brutal U.S. invasion in November 1943 killed so many so quickly that mass graves were utilized, leaving hundreds of fallen soldiers unaccounted for after the war ended and the island built itself up as a nation.

The modern-day excavation efforts, however, aren't nearly as interesting as the movie's parallel thread, an account of the battle using interviews with veterans Leon Cooper — the subject of Barber's last movie, about Tarawa — and Marine Norman Hatch, whose brave filming of the fighting was among the first fully documented accounts of a combat mission.

Part infomercial for a worthy cause, part gripping History Channel-style clip job, "Until They Are Home" is unfortunately too pedestrian to appeal to many beyond war buffs and the uber-patriotic.

Robert Abele

"Until They Are Home." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 6 minutes. At Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

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