Lucky Ones by Neil Burger

“The Lucky Ones is a road movie, and like all classic road movies, it's an epic emotional journey,” director Neil Burger says. “The three characters have been out of the country for some time and want nothing more than to get home and reconnect with family. But life is never that simple.”

The essential fact, of course, is that the three characters are soldiers returning from tours of duty: TK is an experienced Army sergeant, Colee a young private, and Cheaver an older reservist. Says Burger, “I thought what better way to look at the country than through the eyes of people who've been away serving their country. They're just trying to be normal, have a good time, find love. It's funny and heartbreaking.”

“The movie I looked at the most when writing The Lucky Ones,” says Burger, “Was a great Jack Nicholson movie called “The Last Detail” directed by Hal Ashby. It's a very different story but it has a similar tone of humor and heartbreak. You get a real sense of what life was like in 1973 America and I wanted to do the same thing with “The Lucky Ones,” to have it be a real snapshot of today.

“While I was editing my last movie, 'The Illusionist,' I began writing notes for a story on soldiers coming home,” says Burger. “To me, the war was less the issue than the question of America now. Where are we as a people at this point in time I wanted to somehow take the temperature of the country during this highly charged political moment.”

Burger and co-writer Dirk Wittenborn (“Pharmakon,” “Fierce People”) had been looking for a story to collaborate on for years. “I told him what I was working on and he quickly joined me on the project. I had written my last two movies alone but I was lucky to have Dirk on this rambling and far-reaching story.” They started with a rough concept of people coming back to the States on convalescent leave.

Wittenborn knew a doctor at Balad Air Force base and that was the beginning of their research. After contacting soldiers that had been over there, they began methodically fleshing out the premise of a cross-country trip and the trajectory of the three characters' lives as they become reacquainted with America.

“In some ways we wanted to write a love letter to America,” Wittenborn says, “but a clear-eyed love letter that included our concerns about these people, one that didn't shy away from the realities.”

“The Lucky Ones” is a road trip movie in the proud tradition of The Last Detail, Little Miss
Sunshine, Sideways and many other motion pictures, but it approaches the genre in its own unique way, according to producer David Levien. “It's got the staples of any road film, the travel and the elements that don't go smoothly, but it hits those moments in ways that you don't see coming,” says Levien, who with his partner, Brian Koppelman, produced Neil Burger's first two films, “Interview With the Assassin” and “The Illusionist.”

“The thing about this movie that struck us from the beginning was its fresh and original tone in the way it handles serious topics,” adds Koppelman. “Some movies about returning soldiers have been politically laden, but this movie plays against all those expectations. It's such an audience-pleasing ride.”

With screenplay in hand, Burger and Wittenborn approached Bill Block and Paul Hanson and won the backing of their company, QED International, which fully financed the film and is distributing it internationally. “I was drawn to this story from the moment I read it,” says Block, QED's founder and chief executive officer and one of the film's executive producers. “In a time where the majority of perspectives on the war are dark and fail to address the positive side of the human spirit, Neil has created a film that translates national optimism and the sense of togetherness.”

Hanson, chief operating officer of QED International and executive producer of the film, says: “QED wants to make films that are very high quality and have a unique take on their material. Working with great filmmakers is another priority for us, and Neil Burger fits that description in spades.”

“'The Lucky Ones' couldn't be more different than my last film 'The Illusionist,'” says Burger. “But in a way they're connected. They both deal with issues of truth: in the earlier film, truth versus illusion and faith; in the “The Lucky Ones,” truth versus self-delusion and outright lies.”

The humor is a departure too, the movie walks a very fine line between comedy and drama. “In this story, you can't have one without the other,” says Burger. “But the humor is key, it's like a Trojan horse – it makes you let down your guard and let the characters into your heart.”