The Long Road Home has the best pedigree among a bumper crop of new American military dramas

The Long Road Home, about a 2004 attack on a group of American soldiers during the occupation of Iraq, stars Jason Ritter and Kate Bosworth (both above).
The Long Road Home, about a 2004 attack on a group of American soldiers during the occupation of Iraq, stars Jason Ritter and Kate Bosworth (both above).PHOTO: TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY FOX

Military drama The Long Road Home looks at the ravages of war through the eyes of the soldiers' loved ones

There is a bumper crop of new American military dramas on television this year, but The Long Road Home might have the best pedigree of the bunch.

Adapted from a New York Times bestseller by famed war correspondent Martha Raddatz, it revisits a bloody 2004 attack on a group of American soldiers during the occupation of Iraq.

But the series - which stars Kate Bosworth and Jeremy Sisto - takes a slightly different tack by giving equal weight to the anguish of the soldiers' families back in the United States.

Speaking to The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles earlier this year, Raddatz - a four-time Emmy winner for broadcast journalism - says the story "captures the complexities of war and the home front".

The 63-year-old wrote her 2007 non-fiction book, The Long Road Home: A Story Of War And Family, "so people would understand these are complex human beings who are not action figures with perfect little wives back home, and that both (the soldiers and their families) are in battle in their own ways".

The eight-part series - which also stars Michael Kelly, Sarah Wayne Callies and Jason Ritter - debuts on the National Geographic Channel (StarHub TV Channel 411, Singtel TV Channel 201 and video-streaming service Fox+) on Sunday at 10pm.

Several members of the cast met the people they portrayed: Sisto sat down with Sergeant Robert Miltenberger, who survived the ambush, and Bosworth spoke with Gina Denomy, the wife of another soldier, Troy Denomy, played by Ritter.

The actors got to ask them what it was like living through the attack. And although it was a difficult subject to broach, they believe Miltenberger and Denomy found it cathartic talking about it.

Sisto, 43, says: "Robert is one of those people who has a striking emotional connection to his trauma. So, you'll be talking to him and he breaks down.

"Because of that, he's been able to eventually deal with the trauma in a therapeutic way. And perhaps the catalyst was these interviews (Raddatz did with him for the book).

"It's not a usual thing - he didn't want to sit down and talk to her - but he did and he broke down," says the actor, who appeared in the movie Clueless (1995) and the sitcom Suburgatory (2011 to 2014).

It took a long time, but Miltenberger eventually "accepted that he might have some PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)" too, Sisto says. "So, a project like this releases some of the burden, hopefully, for these guys, who have gone through this very private, lonely experience of being in a situation where their friends are dying."

Bosworth, 34, was respectful of Gina Denomy's privacy when she spoke to her, but found her willing to open up.

"I opened the conversation by saying, 'If there's anything you don't want to talk about, that's fine.' Because I can imagine it's hard to be sharing the intimate details of your life with a total stranger, whether an interviewer or an actor playing you," says the Blue Crush (2002) and Still Alice (2014) star.

But she, too, could see it was helping Denomy to share her feelings. "It is strange, but it is therapeutic to some extent. I don't know how often they're asked, 'How did you feel about this? What did you do then and how did that feel?'"

Two soldiers who were caught in the ambush - Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler - served as consultants on the show and, for them, it, too, became a form of therapy.

Sisto says: "Eric and Aaron were talking about how a horrible thing happens and then you get to go to a place, recreate it physically and talk about what happened, but be in a safe place to do it.

"They were like, 'It's amazing. We wish all veterans could do this: create a (television) set of their war and talk themselves through it safely.'"

Executive producer Mike Medavoy has worked on hundreds of films, including the Oscar-winning drama Black Swan (2010), but he says television was the only way to do this story justice. "It's harder to do this as a movie than in eight hours like we do here. Each hour had a character and a theme that it focused on."

Raddatz hopes viewers will come away with a deeper understanding of these soldiers and their families.

"I want them to take away that these are human beings who, days or weeks before the attack, were driving around in their trucks with baby seats in the back and then found themselves in extraordinarily dangerous territory where they lost friends. It's a universal story of sacrifice and by the families as well."

•The Long Road Home debuts on the National Geographic Channel (StarHub TV Channel 411, Singtel TV Channel 201 and video-streaming service Fox+) on Sunday at 10pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline 'Anguish of families in times of war'. Print Edition | Subscribe