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Purpose and Scope

Vietnam has been called the first "media war," in part because it was fought out on the television screens of middle America. Most grunts feel that although we sometimes emerged from a battle bruised and bloody, we didn't lose the war! It's ironic that the Tet 68 battle which the enemy so decisively lost in military terms was the fulcrum for their political victory, because the television coverage convinced many Americans that the war wasn't worth being in.

Vietnam was the platform where journalism changed from factual reporting to interpretative journalism... from letting the public see footage or read reports to make up their own minds to telling them (us) what the media wanted us to think! It was the start of media-mandated political correctness... and soldiers were the opposite of politically correct!

Is it any wonder then that visual media produced about the Vietnam War varies so widely in terms of political slant from, say, the Green Berets  to Apocalypse Now ? Or that most Vietnam films were so painful to watch... not just because of the pain of our own memories, but because many films were so strongly prejudiced against us. (Read Nam Vet John Puzzo's opinion on "Hollyweird").

It's time to get our own back, so our ratings are in terms of flags from 2 VC flags to 3 US flags:

           
         
         
           
           

Rabidly anti-war, anti-American and/or
anti-U.S. soldier.

Politically-correct.

Politically-balanced.

Tries to be patriotic despite the times.

Gung ho patriotic!


No flags means "not rated". Ratings reflect the views of the author, who is the Webmaster unless otherwise noted.

Have you seen a Vietnam War film or television series that we've missed or maybe just disagree with our review? So long as you don't like Jane Fonda (that's a joke, Sir), your input is encouraged and most welcome! Just email your reviews or comments to Film Reviews.


The Vietnam War on Film

Films may be ordered from or  (click on logo to order).

Special film reviews

We Were Soldiers (2002)
Directed by Randall Wallace
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sam Elliott, Clark Gregg, Greg Kinnear, et al.
"We Were Soldiers" carries an unusually heavy burden for a Hollywood movie. It hopes to show the Vietnam War in a way no film has done before: as it really happened. Based on the book "We Were Soldiers Once…and Young," a painstaking account of the 1st Cav' first bloody battle of the Vietnam War in the Ia Drang valley, later dubbed the valley of death, the film seeks to be especially accurate in portraying battlefield noise and the confusion. Co-author Galloway said, "Did they dramatize some of it? Sure they did…this is Hollywood. This is entertainment. This is truth and entertainment. But I would say to you that there's less Hollywood in this movie than any movie I've ever seen."

Press here
for a special review of the film by Military.com.
Black Hawk Down (2002)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, et al.
Beginning with a quote from T.S. Elliott--"All our ignorance brings us closer to death"--Black Hawk Down offers an intelligent film about the 1993 American mission to Somalia which was part of the foundation for the September 11, 2001 attack. It goes a ways towards addressing the media-sponsored public misperception of the Ranger mission as a "failure", and is a tribute to the professional soldiers who bravely and effectively fought on a politically-charged (and micro-managed) battlefield.


Press here
for a special review of the film by Captain Gary Izzo, U.S. Army (Ret.), the pilot of Super 65 (a Blackhawk in the Ranger blocking force) in the operation.
(Provided by John Topper)


The good, the bad and the ugly films about the Vietnam War.

 
Cease Fire (1985)
Tom Johnson Stars as a Vietnam Vet trying to cope with his life and relationships after the war.  Mick Hawkins tells us that our own Larry Ashlock ("D" Company") was also in this movie and helped with the technical end.
Reviews invited.
 
Vietnam-Television History (1983)
Public Broadcasting System, Produced by Dick Ellis
This remarkable and essential seven-volume series--six years in the making and originally broadcast on public television in 1983. I guess it's reasonably balanced, the war really was big and messy. Many of the combat clips really brought "my war" back, and the other clips made me realize how limited the perspective of the grunt was, and had to be!
Reviews invited.
Deer Hunter (1978)
Directed by Michael Cimino
All-star cast (Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage).
My wife considers this the best film about war... any war... but I'm not so sure despite 5 Academy Awards; still the film got us talking about Vietnam! She calls the parts I find unrealistic "metaphor". Hmmm. Still, there's lots to like about this realistically filmed, well-acted human drama - not least of all the camaraderie!
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
All-star cast (Brando, M.Sheen, Duvall, etc.).
Pathetic, depressing, morose and pretentious huge budget anti-war film showing signs of copious amounts of drugs allegedly consumed during filming. Predictably, adherents argue it is a "metaphor": the script was lifted from Heart of Darkness with no resemblance to anything (but Robert Duvall's performance stands out).
The Green Berets (1968)
Directed by Ray Kellogg and John Wayne
All-star cast (really).
Much maligned film classic made at Fort Benning and the Florida Ranger Camp (while I was there) which attempted to "realistically" portray the complexities of Vietnam as only John Wayne could. Forget the plot which varied significantly from Robin Moore's book, but marvel at the look and feel of the times (pine trees?) and shed a tear for little Hamchuck.
 
The Anderson Platoon (1967)
Produced by Pierre Schoendorffer
Documentary (cast of real-life grunts).
In the fall of 1966, French documentarian Pierre Schoendorffer spent six weeks with an American infantry platoon in the 1st Cavalry Division. This is the real war... although some scenes look a bit staged. A sobering film.
 
84 Charlie Mopic (1989)
Directed by Patrick Sheane Duncan (Vietnam Vet)
Cast of unknowns.
Excellent fictionalized first person view on a Long Range Recon Patrol in Central Highlands in late 1969. In the opinion of this and other Vietnam veterans, this film looks and feels like a real documentary filmed for the troops being trained for combat in Vietnam, not like a staged movie. If realism and a good feel for that war is what you are looking for then get or watch this film.
 
Hamburger Hill (1987)
Directed by John Irvin
Anthony Barrile, Michael Boatman
Realistic, no-frills look at the deadly siege on Hill 937 in the A Shau Valley, where soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division engaged the enemy over the course of eleven brutal assaults between May 10th and 20th, 1969. I was surprised when I saw this film that it didn't pontificate or editorialize (unusual for Hollywood) but lets the action speak for itself.
 
Platoon (1986)
Produced and Directed by Oliver Stone (Vietnam Veteran)
Berenger, Defoe, C.Sheen
First-person account of a young soldier who in a short period is unlucky enough to experience every bad thing that ever happened in the ten years of war. Despite the heavy-handed politics, there are fine performances from an excellent cast.
 
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Matthew Modine, Lee Ermey
A two-part drama that begins at a Parris Island boot camp and abruptly switches to Vietnam. Stanley Kubrick's films aren't noted for logical development, and metaphors fly fast and furious, with Kubrick's main point being that depravity and fulfillment are intertwined in war. Maybe I just didn't need to learn that.

 
Distant Thunder (1988)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
John Lithgow, Ralph Macchio
Emotionally troubled (PTSD) Vietnam vet (well acted by Third Rock's Lithgow), who has retreated to live as a hermit in the wilderness, and whose abandoned son (Karate Kid Macchio) sets out to find him.
 
Casualties of War (1989)
Directed by Brian de Palma
Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox
Based on a New Yorker article, Michael J. Fox is a straight-shooting soldier in a depraved squad led by Sean Penn. While on patrol, the squad kidnaps and rapes a Vietnamese woman and murders her. Fox refused to participate and reports it, finding that he is in deeper trouble then the miscreants. This all sounds pretty clear-cut, but the film doesn't seem sure what points it wants to make.
2007 UPDATE: Website Committee member Jim Sheppard adds: New documentation has come to light on this TRUE STORY. Upon obtaining two new books;It took Heroes and It Took Heroes II, by Claude D. Newby, of which the latter documents our own Charlie Company CO,  CPT Jay Copley, I read the account of the author, an Army Chaplain who, quite coincidentally, was the Chaplain that Michael Fox's character finally got to pay attention to his account of a squad's abduction and brutal rape of a Vietnamese girl. Not only was the film correct, but they neglected to portray that the Vietnamese girl, who was ultimately killed by the men of the squad (On a Long Range Recon Patrol), was 5 months pregnant! We must accept that not all stories of Vietnam are "Lilly White"....we had our black sheep...as attested to in the well documented My Lai massacre. With this new knowledge, the original review no longer seems to be slightly "left wing", but rather a depiction of actual events. With this in view, I have given the film a "neutral" rating. I will admit...the first time I saw this film, without Claude Newby's verification of the facts, I also felt the film was "slanted".  I now feel it is an accurate depiction of the events...although names and units were changed for the film.




 
In Country (1989)
Directed by Norman Jewison
Bruce Willis, Emily Lloyd
A Vietnam veteran with PTSD helps his teenage niece who's just graduated from high school find out more about her father who died in Vietnam before she was born. The movie is really a character study about family as the two quite credible characters bond leading up to a powerful ending at the Wall. A well-acted, decent film. Bring Kleenex.




 
Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989)
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Wings Hauser, R. Lee Ermey
A minimalist B movie that tells a straightforward story about Marines defending a disorganized isolated outpost in Vietnam during Tet 68, featuring brutalities on both sides and making the statement that the VC were just the same as us. Oh well, that passed for balance in the 1980s.
 
Platoon Leader (1987)
Directed by Aaron Norris
Robert F. Lyons, Michael Dudikoff
A down-to-earth film about how a green platoon leader who gets a firsthand education on the battlefield, fighting more than just the enemy. Makes an honest attempt to fairly authentically portray slang, mannerisms, and feel of Vietnam combat without left-wing political hype.
 
The Boys in Company C (1978)
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Stan Shaw, Andrew Stevens
Shaw whips green Marine recruits into shape for Vietnam in a film that focuses on the hypocrisy and stupidity of brass and the demoralization of the soldiers. In the unlikely event that you want to learn what American youth of the post-Vietnam era have been taught about the Vietnam War, this is the film for you, with its 20/20 hindsight!
       
 
Vietnam - The Ten Thousand Day War (1980)
Written by CNN correspondent Peter Arnett,
Narrated by Richard Basehart
While Ted Turner's CNN wasn't the bastion of journalistic purity, this excellent documentary's 13 episodes trace the entire course of the conflict from the close of World War II to the fall of Saigon in l975. It's worth it for the extensive archival footage and interviews with participants on both sides. "Vietnam" is reasonably objective journalistic history. If you don't like the narrative, turn the sound off and let the pictures speak for themselves.




 
Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1988)
Directed by Bill Couturiť
Read by Harvey Keitel, Matt Dillon, Kathleen Turner, many others.
This is a semi-documentary with real letters, newsreel footage, still photos and 60s music combining to present a human story of the war and reveal real people in real situations trying desperately to explain or understand. This powerful documentary is a crossover film that, while basically anti-war, is not explicitly anti-veteran.
 
BAT 21 (1988)
Directed by Peter Markle
Gene Hackman, Danny Glover
Fighter pilot Hackman hangs onto his radio when shot down and maintains contact with Danny Glover. Hackman must rely on his own instincts with long-distance help from Glover, to evade and escape. While theoretically based on a true story, only good acting from the stars saves the film.


 
Go Tell the Spartans (1978)
Directed by Ted Post
Burt Lancaster,
Burt shines as "advisory group'' commander who in 1964 is already starting to have his doubts about the conflict. More realistic in dialogue and situation than other, more publicized, popular films on the subject. Wendell Mayes's cynically funny script is right on target. Based on Daniel Ford's novel Incident at Muc Wa. A solid film.





Hanoi Hilton (1987)
Directed by Lionel Chetwynd
Michael Moriarty,
This has to be a decent film, because the New Republic called it "filth" and other reviewers panned it as "one-sided" for trying to tell the truth about Americans held in the infamous Hoa Lo prison in North Vietnam, the one Jane Fonda visited and found humane. Vietnam Veteran John Puzzo wrote, "This film, produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom I interviewed for one of my radio shows, was one of the only films that exposed the anti-war movement collaborators for what the were (and remain). In the film the woman 'activist' is not Jane Fonda, she is Cora Weiss... Chetwynd was quite nearly blackballed in Hollyweird after the fim came out. So much for freedom of expression..."
 
Return With Honor (1987)
Directed by Jacqueline Shearer
Dcoumentary
A documentary from PBS's American Experience series that uses intervies, vintage footage, including propaganda films shot by their captors, and other documentary techniques to bring to life the experiences of men held for up to 8-1/2 years as North Vietnamese prisoners of war.
Reviews invited.
 
Coming Home (1978)
Directed by
Jon Voight, Jane Fonda
I couldn't rate this film because I refused to see anything by Jane on Vietnam, so I asked for assistance, which was forthcoming from John Puzzo. While some have said that the film was a quasi-apology by Jane to us, don't believe that for a second! I saw a brief bit that had Jane playing out an insulting one-dimensional parody of a Vietnam Vet's wife... not surprisingly, Viet Vet Puzzo was none too complimentary.



Lost Command (1966)
Directed by Mark Robson
Anthony Quinn
Quinn stars as maverick French Paratroop LTC Raspeguy, first in Indochina at Dien Bien Phu, hardened (and bonded) even more as Viet Minh POWs, and later applying their no-holds-barred approach against Algerian Arab guerilla fighting for independence from France. Based on Jean Larteguy's excellent novel "The Centurians."
Uncommon Valor (1983)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Gene Hackman, Patrick Swayze
Based on a true story, Hackman is a retired military man who gets tired of government inaction in tracking down the whereabouts of his MIA son, so he gathers and trains a rough group of Vietnam vets to launch his own mission into Laos. This film had some memorable and enjoyable moments.
Missing in Action (1984)
Directed by Joseph Zito
Chuck Norris
What can I say? Chuck Norris is, well, Chuck Norris (aka Braddock) the one-man army single-handedly winning the Vietnam War this time. Chuck the diplomat negotiating for MIA release is unfairly accused by the North of foul play, so he puts on his ninja suit and... well, if you like Chuck Norris, this is almost as good as Octagon!
First Blood (1982)
Directed by Ted Kotchoff
Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy
Green Beret Medal of Honor winner John Rambo wanders into a small town to find a fellow 'Nam buddy and gets the living heck kicked out of him by the local law (Viet Vet wannabe Brian Dennehy). Rambo simply applies his defensive skills and leads a fight through the local mountains (why wouldn't they just leave him alone?). After almost a decade of pussy-footing around, Rambo let a Vietnam Vet be a hero again (well, an anti-hero at least) in an interesting film.
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985)
Directed by George Cosmatos
Sylvester Stallone
In this sequel, disillusioned Vietnam vet John Rambo returns to Vietnam on a Black Op to (what else) rescue MIAs and kicks Asian (and Russian) butt, taking Rocky-style punishment along the way.
Purple Hearts (1984)
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Cheryl Ladd, Ken Wahl
Navy medic and nurse fall in love. Vietnam intervenes. This is more a love story (or soapy) than a war story, but grunts weren't the only people affected by the war. The watchable film gives a good sense of the feel of the day for people in uniform and, as a female reviewer on Amazon said, "Don't watch this movie without your Kleenex".
A Rumor of War (1980)
Directed by Richard T. Heffron
Keith Carradine, Jeff Daniels, Brian Dennehy, Laurence Fishburne
Possibly the best ever war movie title (from Vietnam Marine veteran Philip Caputo's 1977 book), the Marine LT hero diligently performs his duty in battle after battle while questioning America's involvement until he suffers a nervous breakdown. The film trumpets the brutalization and depersonalization of troops in Vietnam, so Hollywood picked up the film rights and made the film without delay.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Tom Cruise
Oliver Stone did it again, he must have hated his tour in the Army! He managed to take a very good book, paralyzed Viet Vet Ron Kovic's "Born on the Fourth of July" and draw a few original but politically correct (for the day) conclusions that the book somehow "missed". Kovic was a gung ho Marine who came home from Vietnam paralyzed from the chest down who went through mental and physical hell before finding new meaning in the antiwar movement,. This is a powerful film, but it doesn't do the book justice.
Gardens of Stone (1987)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
James Caan. Anjelica Huston,James Earl Jones
This film makes more sense when you understand that Coppola's son Giancarlo had recently died in a boating accident. This is a drama about the Old Guard who patrol and serve at the funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Burned out James Caan tries to pass his cynicism onto a young man in the unit who (of course) doesn't listen, goes to OCS then Nam as a butterbar, and predictably returns to Arlington, but I won't give away the glum, gloomy plot.
The Odd Angry Shot (1979)
Directed by Tom Jeffrey
Graham Kennedy, Bryan Brown, John Hargreaves
Australian film about Diggers in Vietnam that avoids much of the Hollywood hype (because it wasn't made in Hollywood) to realistically portray what it was really like. It follows four Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam. The title alone gives it some credibility.
The Killing Fields (1984)
Directed by Roland Joffe
Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich
A fascinating study of the brutal impact of the Khmer Rouge upon Kampuchean society. Winner of 3 Academy Awards. Anyone who doesn't believe in the Domino Theory should be forced to watch this film until they concede this painful reality might possibly be a domino!
Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Directed by Barry Levinson
Robin Williams, Forrest Whittaker
Based on the story of AFVN radio announcer Adrian Cronauer in Vietnam. Like most Hollywood films about Vietnam, political correctness overcomes a good story and fine acting; in this case, there are really two films - the excellent first half which degenerates to make all the political messages Hollywood wanted to make during the weak second half.
Air America (1990)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr
An action comedy that tries out a whimsical look at the CIA's covert smuggling operations during the Vietnam War, this film never reaches very far towards its black comedy potential.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright, Sally Field, and everybody who was anybody.
The most unusual movie you'll ever see about the Vietnam war. Academy Award winner Tom Hanks plays a slow-witted man who is at the center of the most pivotal events of the Vietnam War era. This is a super film... it's like, well, like a large box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.


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