Julia Roberts became a huge hit after her romantic comedy, Pretty Woman in 1990. Several Golden Globe Awards and Oscar nods later, her Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and Erin Brockovich (2000) catapulted her into the higher realms of glory.
But now at 51, it seemed that she was a trifle too late for the party when she did a web series, Homecoming. But with Sam Esmail helming 10 episodes of Homecoming, totalling five long hours, Roberts seemed quite at home in a completely different kind of medium. Rather, she was just brilliant as a troubled, guilty psychologist, caught in a vicious web of an American Government programme – which purportedly aided soldiers suffering from traumas to return home and get back into normal, routine civilian life. But, then, was this so?
In a series – which did not sag at any point and kept me glued to the Amazon original now streaming -- Roberts stole the show, dexterously peeling off one lie after another till the truth popped out. In an effective flashback, flash-forward manner, Esmail presents the two sides of his heroine. One the one hand, Roberts is an administrator in the programme, called Homecoming, getting soldiers back into civilian life. On the other hand, she is a waitress at a diner. And Esmail narrates his story like an old-fashioned thriller, a la Hitchcockian.
Heidi Bergman (Roberts), while trying to integrate soldiers, has sessions with one of them, Walter Cruz (Stephan James). And the two forge a bond, which is, strictly speaking, unprofessional and even unethical. Four years later, Bergman is working in an restaurant in her hometown, when Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) meets her to ask her about the programme. He is part of the Department of Defence, and is investigating a complaint about the programme. He feels that Bergman has the key to the whole thing.
Slowly, as the probe gets underway with all the elements of a mystery thriller, we see the unveiling of a horrible crime and whose victims are those very soldiers – who in the first place – were supposed to benefit from the programme.
Homecoming has so much of vile and viciousness that it blew me, but Esmail presents his series with fascinating aesthetics and style. Gripping to the core, but yes, a Julia Roberts fan would feel sad that the actress has aged unbelievably. She is nowhere as pretty as she was playing a prostitute in Pretty Woman.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)