Thursday, September 30, 2010

FORGOTTEN GEM? "Platoon Leader"

    I recently finished reading for the second time one of my favorite Vietnam War books - Platoon Leader.  The book is the memoir of Lt. James McDonough.    It is a good study in command.  It is the Company Commander of Vietnam.  I recently went to Amazon and of 25 reviews, 21 were 5 stars (the other 4 were 4 stars).    The movie is loosely based on the book with a few scenes borrowed, but most of the characters are changed (for the worse) and the main character is renamed Jeff Knight.
      The movie opens with the green LT arriving at a base camp outside a ville that is under its protection.  The men are ill-disciplined and some are smoking dope. They are sure Lt. Knight will hide in the bunker like the previous leader.  He insists on going out on patrols and has the usual learning curve which results in him stepping on a mine and being medevaced.  To the surprise of the men, he returns (and they sneak back all his stuff they had "appropriated").  There are more patrols and more firefights.  They used a lot of blanks in this movie!   There is a lot of shooting from the hip.  On one patrol, they catch some VC drinking in a river and throw what seems like 50 grenades down on them from a cliff.  They got some!  
     There are several stock characters.  You have the druggie troublemaker who overdoses on heroin during a pee break on a patrol.  Sgt. MacNamara uses full automatic to make it look like he was killed by the VC after the obligatory "Oh, God, no!" moment and the BFF's "Wake up, you SOB!" scene-chewing.  There is also the gizzled veteran/killer who describes the war as "all gooood!" and does not mind silencing prisoners.
     The big battle occurs at night as a swarm of VC assault the camp.  They catch hell from the platoon and helicopters that rain rockets on them. The rockets and grenades are filled with gasoline (a fact I was not aware of) which make for pretty explosions.
     They go on a daytime operation during which MacNamara gets badly wounded.  "You don't die on me, you bastard!" pleads Knight.  Oscar please!  Lots of slo-mo deaths.  A M-60 gunner fires his weapon like Rambo.They get back too late to save the ville (moral:  the war is hopeless).
      I had remembered this movie fondly since I had last seen it around 1990.  I am disillusioned.  It was cheesy and very poorly overacted.  It would have been better if it followed the book more closely although I could vaguely recognize some stuff from the book.  There is lots of mindless action to satisfy those who complained that "Platoon" did not waste enough gooks.
      Sadly, it should remain forgotten.  Read the book instead! 

1 comment:

  1. Now this is not going to land on my wish list. Thanks for sparing me the experience of such a gem of cinema history.


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