Hollywood once more goes through the “war is hell” motions and gives Vietnam the Saving Private Ryan treatment.
I cannot criticise the skillful representation of the battlefield, but pretty pictures of men being artfully eviscerated by slow motion gunfire does not a war movie make. What marks this film is the quite astonishing lack of subtlety and sophistication in the script and direction by Randall Wallace. Mel Gibson plays the kind of superhuman commanding officer who stands shoulder to shoulder with his men and probably blinds the enemy with the glow of his halo. The first 40 minutes of the film are particularly painful with all of the usual boot camp cliches present and correct, interspersed with apple pie images of family prayer and an embarrassing scene featuring the officers’ wives that is about as subtle as Father Ted’s slideshow that flashed up “NOT A RACIST” at strategic intervals. The men on the ground under Gibson’s command are all the kind of fine upstanding Americans who were “glad to give their lives for their country” and gasped “Tell my wife I love her” with their dying breaths but were clearly not important enough to devote any screen time to when it comes to their characters or personalities. The only attempt to show the Vietnamese side of the story was glimpses of their commander, thirty seconds before his orders were preternaturally second guessed by Gibson and at the very end when they hastily retreat from the advancing and victorious American soldiers. This film is exactly the kind of patronising, Gung Ho, John Wayne style flag waver that I thought had been swept away by Coppola, Kubrick and Stone, the clumsiness and saccharine of which was summed up for me by the scene when Mel Gibson’s young daughter asked him “Dad-dy, what is a war…?”.
Simplistic, sentimental and seemingly interminable nonsense.