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Uncommon Valor

Vietnam was a hard war on Hollywood — not only did it kill the patriotic fervor that most war films had, but Americans could no longer be portrayed as the almighty righteous ass-kickers they were after World War II. It should be no surprise that recent war films have returned to the Second World War to restore a patriotic sheen to Old Glory, but in the early '80s war films were virtually required to be depressing and introspective, and the only thing that screenwriters could grasp at for noble heroism was the prisoner-of-war predicament in Vietnam, as it spawned at least three films: 1982's jingoistic Rambo: First Blood Part 2, the 1983 Uncommon Valor and 1984's Chuck Norris cash-in Missing in Action. Of the three Valor is the only one still of interest. Gene Hackman stars U.S. Army Col. Cal Rhodes, the father of a POW who has spent ten years trying to track down his missing son. Once Rhodes has a tangible lead he uses the funding of a wealthy man with sympathies (Robert Stack) to stage a mission, recruiting his son's old squadron (including Fred Ward, Randall "Tex" Cobb, and Tim Thomerson) — who have spent the last ten years as civilians — to help him reach the Viet Cong camp where he hopes his son is. Such a premise inevitably leads to the standard training sequences where old timers wheeze under the guiding of a young-pup trainer (Patrick Swayze), allowing the film to establish each character's quirks while slowing the plot down to a near deadly halt. But once the men hit Bangkok the story comes alive with the last half-hour focusing on their raid, which is at once exciting but kind of sad. Because Vietnam was a "bad" war, the men and their actions never become clearly heroic, even after ten years. Uncommon Valor works at cross-purposes as it tries to excite the viewer but is never able to shake this sense of failure, making it superior than the others of its ilk, which are just run of the mill action films set in Vietnam. Ted Kotcheff directs capably, with John Milius acting as producer. Paramount's DVD features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Keep-case.

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