It's 15 years on but in Blue Collar USA the scars of the Vietnam War haven't yet healed. Veteran Ed Harris drinks too much, complains all the time and lives with his teenager sister, Kathy Baker, while De Niro is the army-days buddy (nickname Jacknife) who keeps calling round to bring him out of himself and just as frequently gets rebuffed.
As usual in this kind of stage-derived Americana, there's also an idealised dead man to serve as a catalyst for the different characters' sense of loss. Following on from All My Sons, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and all the rest, a mutual best friend killed during the war (there are a couple of very brief flashbacks) leaves Harris and De Niro still feeling guilty and upset about whose fault it might have been.
Too neat and tidy by far, it isn't much of a storyline and follows a predictable path throughout: a trip to the local War Memorial, De Niro and Baker falling for each other, some anguished confessionals and a We-All-Like-Each-Other pay off. Needless to say the three central characters are first rate, but there's a general feeling of safeness about the movie which pushes it too far into the realms of 'good television'.
De Niro's edgy overbalanced confidence teeters on the brink of the pathological, but although the trademarked ear to ear grin is the same as in Taxi Driver, the hoped-for emotional explosion never happens. Though he does put a fist through a pane of glass, quickly he's rehabilitated enough to don a white tuxedo and accompany Baker to the High School Prom, leaving Harris to deliver the shout and smash fireworks.
With skilfully derived ordinariness as its keynote, the film provides pleasure, and the odd detail, in terms of star-turns but dramatically the strings are there for all to see.