‘Long Road Home’ is excellent war drama

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On April 4, 2004, a 1st Cavalry Division patrol commanded by Lt. Shane Aguero (E.J. Bonilla) makes its way through the streets of Sadr City, Iraq — a Shia neighborhood of Baghdad — when ambushed by Mahdi Army militiamen.

In the ensuing battle, later dubbed Black Sunday, U.S. forces under the command of Lt. Col. Gary Volesky (Michael Kelly) — including Capt. Troy Denomy (Jason Ritter) of Charlie Company — go in to rescue them. Back home at Fort Hood, Texas, their wives, Leann Volesky (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Gina Denomy (Kate Bosworth), hear rumors of an engagement in Sadr City. This eight-part series is based on Martha Raddatz’s acclaimed 2007 book.

“The long road home” is a figure of speech except in “The Long Road Home.” Here it’s literal. There are roads leading to Sadr City, through Sadr City, and around Sadr City. They aren’t just long, either. Some are endless, winding around and around, like patterns in some devilishly ingenious maze.

Like all fine films about war, “The Long Road Home” doesn’t want to waste anyone’s time talking about the cost of war. People die brutally, on both sides.

“The Long Road Home” is preoccupied with the human details. What is a young platoon lieutenant supposed to say over the body of his lifeless gunner?

Five episodes — including Tuesday’s two-part launch — were directed by Phil Abraham, who brings the same scrupulous focus on character that he did to “Mad Men.” There’s no bravado in these soldiers. They are confused, scared, angry, suspicious, miserable and occasionally desperate. At his core, Aguero is fundamentally decent.

“The Long Road” can be tough to watch — I saw the first three episodes — but it does seem like it’s essential to.