During the Vietnam War, a patrol of five men is on active operations to seek out and eliminate Vietcong from combat zones in the area where they are stationed. The patrol is led by young Sergeant Tony Meserve (played by Sean Penn) and his loyal men are Corporal Thomas E. Clarke (by Don Harvey) and PFC’s Hatcher (by John C. Reilly), Diaz (by John Leguizamo) and Eriksson (by Michael J. Fox). They follow his every order to the letter. While on “R’n’R” between operations, the patrol’s rest time is cut short and they are sent back out on a jungle surveillance patrol on foot. To maintain morale, Sergeant Meserve plans to arrange some “R’n’R” of their own so the squad are entertained while on patrol. At a village along the trail, they snatch Oahn, a terrified young Vietnamese woman (by Thuy Thu Lee) from her distraught family and bring her along. They arrive at their surveillance site and Meserve orders the squad to settle in then take their pleasure with the struggling girl. Most of the squad comply and she is repeatedly raped and beaten, but Eriksson is horrified by this atrocious behaviour and stands up against the indignant Sergeant and the ridicule of his fellow squad members. Meserve vows revenge against Eriksson for his disloyalty. This is the story of Eriksson’s grit and determination to speak out on behalf of the desperate girl and the cruelty inflicted by the soldiers.
This is based on an article by the same name by Daniel Lang, published in the “New Yorker” in 1969, which was written after he learned of a real-life incident in the Vietnam War. The movie is a compelling depiction of the daily horror played out in the jungles of Vietnam during that time. The drama, emotional turmoil, personal ethics and complex relationships in this story are portrayed marvellously and the viewer is really brought into the story from the start. It is excellent. Sean Penn is intense and stunning as the young Meserve, who is experienced beyond his 20 years and an unquestioningly strong leader. Michael J. Fox brings his own refreshing slant to the key role of Eriksson, who maintains his moral stance, tenacity and sensitivity towards the young woman very well indeed. Clarke is well played by Don Harvey and both John C. Reilly and John Leguizamo are perfectly cast as the obsequious Hatch and Diaz. Perhaps the only issue I have with the production is that the studio-based scene construction makes much of the environment seem a little too artificial and the same can be said for the characters – to my eye, they look a little too clean-cut, well fed and freshly shaven and I suspect that in the actual scenario they would have been far worse for wear than this. However, the movie is very good and although it won a Golden Globe in 1990 for Ennio Morricone’s Original Score, I am surprised it isn’t an Academy Award Winner. Very well done everyone.
Made in 1989. Directed by Brian DePalma