‘Homecoming’ Review: Julia Roberts is Terrific in Amazon’s Psychological Thriller

Homecoming Julia Roberts and Stephan James
Julia Roberts and Stephan James in ‘Homecoming’ (Photo by Jessica Brooks / Amazon)

Amazon Prime Video’s intriguing new psychological thriller Homecoming premieres on November 2, 2018. The chilling and all-too-real drama is a slow build well worth investing time to watch unfold. The drama marks the first time Oscar winner Julia Roberts has taken on a starring role in a television series, and the 10-episode first season confirms she held out for the right project.

Homecoming was created by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail and for fans of his unique storytelling style, this conspiracy thriller will definitely fill the void as we impatiently await the debut of Mr. Robots‘ final season in 2019. Julia Roberts and Sam Esmail are the perfect team to flesh out Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz’s podcast.

The series requires you pay attention to the details that unfold in each episode. (Don’t multi-task while binging it.) The dual timelines are relatively easy to follow, however small clues are dropped each episode that are critical but might be overlooked if you’re not devoting your full attention.

One timeline follows Heidi Bergman (Roberts) during her employment as a caseworker at the high security Homecoming Transitional Support Center in Florida. The facility’s mission is to help veterans through any emotional or mental issues stemming from their deployments overseas. Heidi’s dedicated to the mission and finds one veteran in particular who she connects with.

Walter Cruz (Stephan James) and Heidi develop a mutual respect for each other that transitions into a friendship during their therapy sessions. More so than any of the other troubled veterans at Homecoming, Heidi is determined to help Walter get his feet back under him so he can rejoin civilian life.

Heidi’s job is to hold sessions with the veterans and help deal with their PTSD. The veterans are also put through training sessions in which they role play interactions with friends from their civilian lives.

The second timeline is set four years later and also focuses on Heidi Bergman. In the future timeline, Heidi’s no longer employed at Homecoming. She lives at home with her mother (played by Sissy Spacek) and works as a waitress. She claims not to remember anything from the months she was working with the soldiers.

Bobby Cannavale co-stars as Heidi’s Homecoming boss, Colin Belfast. He’s obsessive, obnoxious, and driven to prove the methodology employed by the Homecoming staff to help veterans produces the intended results.

Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham plays Department of Defense auditor Thomas Corrasco who’s charged with looking into a complaint made by Walter Cruz. Thomas interviews Heidi in 2022 and finds her so vague that he launches an investigation into the events that transpired in 2018.

Corrasco, and the series, focus on the key questions: What’s Heidi hiding and why is there a lengthy period of time where her memory appears to have been wiped clean?

Homecoming star Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts stars in ‘Homecoming’ (Photo Credit: Tod Campbell / Amazon)

Discussing the series, Esmail said, “The inspirations are Alfred Hitchcock and Brian DePalma— a throwback to character-based thrillers. It’s Baroque and Pastiche without actually throwing it back into the past.”

Series creator Esmail strove to make Homecoming feel intimate rather than cinematic, and he accomplished that via lengthy takes and dialogue-driven rather than action-heavy scenes.

Homecoming methodically unfolds the details as to why Heidi can’t recall her five months as a Homecoming employee, peeling back the layers in a deliberate, mesmerizing fashion. Mr. Robot fans will recognize Esmail’s visual style in Homecoming, and this podcast adaptation that leans heavily on providing key details via phone conversations fits snugly in Esmail’s wheelhouse.

It’s difficult to make a phone conversation between two individuals feel dynamic, yet Esmail accomplishes it with split screens and shot framing that engages the eye.

Julia Roberts is impressive in one of her juiciest roles in years. Roberts plays what’s basically two roles in the series since the Heidi of 2018 has little in common with the Heidi of 2022. 2018’s version is assertive, driven, and committed to her work. 2022’s Heidi has little ambition or desire to improve her situation despite the fact she’s unhappy with her circumstances.

Stephan James is equally terrific as the veteran who attempts to remain positive about his time in rehab while also understanding there’s something dark and devastating lurking not far beneath the surface.

Everything from the score to the talented ensemble of supporting actors (Dermot Mulroney, Jeremy Allen White, Alex Karpovsky, and Marianne Jean-Babtiste) to the production design is first-rate. Amazon’s built up an impressive stable of original series, and with Homecoming they’ve delivered an extraordinary series that will stimulate conversation (and generate awards nominations).