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Never saw this film when it was released originally in 1988. Not
knowing what to expect, we decided to take a chance watching it on
cable when it was shown the other night; it was a complete surprise.
Director Peter Markle, working with a magnificent cast, headed by Gene
Hackman and Danny Glover, does wonders to recreate this story of valor
under the worst possible circumstances.
The cinematography is excellent. The film relies on visual effects, that are not to be confused with the incredible special effects that we have seen in other movies. Yes, of course, we all know that they are special, but the movie relies in the interplay between the missing Col. Hambleton on the ground and Capt. "Bird Dog" Clark who had the courage to stay focused, first in his plane, and later in the helicopter as he searches for this man, who he didn't even know.
It's a tribute that these two military men in caring for one another in a difficult situation. Gene Hackman is an actor that always project convincing character. His take on the colonel is the real thing. Danny Glover, on the other hand, is on target. He demonstrates he has what it takes to hold it against big stars, like Mr. Hackman, or in his films with Mel Gibson. He is a joy to watch in his portrayal of a man who is an honest professional.
For fans of action war movies, this is a more real approach to the genre thanks to the vision of its director Peter Markle.
Lt. Colonel Iceal Hambleton (Gene Hackman) is a respected, middle-aged
strategist who has only seen the war from the air - and high in the air,
too. During one reconnaissance mission, however, he's shot down behind
lines for the first time. Scared and out of his element, Hambleton must
on Captain Clark (Danny Glover), a pilot, to help him keep his composure
until a rescue can happen.
Most of the scenes are of just the two leads, almost making this a two-character action play. Both men provide stellar performances, with Hackman putting a decidedly different spin on his tough-guy, in-control persona. Glover is equally aces as the tireless pilot. And just in case you think there's going to be more talk than action in this movie, don't fret. The Vietcong are around somewhere, and they know Hambleton's in the vicinity. Not only does Clark have to get Hambleton out of there before good ol' Charlie finds him, he has to get him out of there before U.S. forces carpet-bomb the entire area! Needless to say, there are bombs bursting galore. Jerry Reed, who plays Clark's commander, also turns in a fine performance - a bit above par for Reed - and served as executive producer and composed some of the songs on the soundtrack.
To this day I am still amazed at how well Lt. Colonel Iceal Hambleton was
able to formulate a plan on as we say in the military, "To Get the Hell
This movie didn't rely on the most sophisticated special effects to make it good. It relied mainly on the two main characters to create a good dialog between them.
For any war buffs out there, this was a good movie to sit back and watch the some of the more unique tactics used to survive in bad situations.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Possible spoilers ahead...
On April 2, 1972, 53-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton, a SAC missile expert, was the sole survivor when the electronic-warfare EB-66 aircraft was shot down near Vietnam's DMZ. He landed near middle of 30000 NVA troops who were launching an offensive. This film is based upon that event, via a book that I believe is a fictionalized version of the actual events. The film is excellent, but what I know of the real story would have perhaps made at least as compelling a movie. Still, taken as a sort-of-based-on-a-true story kind of thing, "Bat 21" succeeds on all levels. It's one of those movies that I can watch over and over, and have.
The acting is superlative, from all involved. Gene Hackman is always excellent and here he's in fine form. Danny Glover, too, is great in his role as the 'Bird Dog' spotter pilot who remotely helps Hambleton through his ordeal in Vietnamese 'Indian country.' Jerry Reed, the talented Nashville guitar-picker (his 1967 and 1968 work on Elvis Presley's sessions resulted in some of the tastiest material that Elvis ever produced) who achieved movie fame with his trucker roles in Burt Reymolds' good-ole-boys projects, is perfect as the CO of the air-rescue team. He was also instrumental in getting this movie made. Other actors in smaller roles are also great, particularly the 'Jolly Green' pilot played by David Marshall Grant.
The character that Gene Hackman plays is singularly unprepared for his surroundings -- a departure from the kinds of roles that he had in films like "The French Connection, "The Package," "Mississippi Burning," etc -- and is forced to face the reality of death up close for the first time in his death-dealing professional career. the whole hiding-in-the jungle, avoiding-the-NVA, trying-not-to-get-impaled-on-punji sticks experience that he goes through is wearying and paranoia-inducing to behold. The cinematography and use of locations in this film is spectacular, too, and really heightens the narrative effect. It seems amazing that a combat-green 53-year-old golf addict could survive the conditions of the Vietnamese jungle, let alone while being hunted by North Vietnamese troops, let alone for as many days as he lasted. On top of it all -- as in reality -- he called in air strikes on a crossroads at which men and materiel were massing.
Among the more poignant scenes are his killing a Vietnamese man -- the failure to communicate that led to the fatal incident is a metaphor for US failure to understand the people that they were charged with protecting and fighting -- and his speechlessness when silently confronted by the man's family. Also fairly profound is a scene in which the wounded Hambleton, about at the end of his tether, is saved from a booby trap by a young boy. That and other incidents, including the panicked flight of a Vietnamese soldier before an American carpet-bombing attack, highlight the inherent inanity of war and the price of the ultimately pointless Vietnam conflict. On the other hand, I defy anyone to watch the bad guys' treatment of the downed Jolly Green crew and not feel anger toward them. Sure, that didn't happen (at least not in the real rescue of Hambleton), but it sure enough gives you a better understanding of how soldiers might torch a village and even commit 'war crimes' in retaliation. All too good an understanding, actually.
The real story was perhaps even more remarkable, with Ham on the run for 12 days in April of 1972 before being rescued by a team that consisted of a Navy SEAL (later awarded the Medal of Honor) and an ARVN Ranger. The recovery of Colonel Hambleton was the biggest rescue operation of the Vietnam War. The protracted rescue resulted in the award of 234 medals and the downing of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, including a second "bird-dog" and a 'Jolly Green' rescue helicopter. Eleven people died to retrieve Hambleton, two were captured, and five aircraft were shot down. On the day that Ham was shot down, two of the helicopters sent to pick him up were also shot down. Lieutenant (not Captain) Mark (not Bartholomew) Clark (grandson of a well-known WWII general...to further distance reality from the film, I believe that Clark was of Caucasian extraction), spotting from an OV-10A Bronco in support of the rescue mission, was shot down the very next day (with another officer, the actual pilot, who was captured after a few hours) and ended up evading capture almost as long as did Ham. I know that the facts might have been changed to focus on the interplay between two men but that's a pretty big change and I suspect that the movie would have been just as great with both leads on the ground. Hambleton WAS encouraged by the FACs in the Broncos and I guess that the producers (or the man who wrote the original book) decided to roll them all up into Danny Glover's Clark. By the way, Hambleton was rescued by following a golf-based code but I believe that the idea originated with someone back at HQ rather than from the downed officer. Okay, so it's all fictionalized, and I guess it's still 'based on a true story.' LOOSELY based, though. William Anderson, who co-wrote the screenplay, wrote "Bat 21" as a novel, so it's not that Hollywood took it upon itself to fictionalize because the tale was already so.
Ironically enough, Hambleton is called "Ham" in the film but was known to his friends in real life as "Gene," as in Gene Hackman.
.... this was supposed to be a "true" story, so why not tell it as it really
happened? Of course, there are always budget restraints and other
considerations that come into play. But I can never quite work out why
Hollywood changes crucial facts of a real story when making "true-life"
movies of this type. Don't get me wrong - I saw this movie for the first
time just last week, a full 13 years after it first appeared, and I
thoroughly enjoyed it. It didn't glorify war at all, and some of the scenes
were quite shocking and moving. However, having read the TRUE story of BAT
21 some years ago, I couldn't help thinking "hang on a minute - it didn't
happen like that!!!" In reality, the actual 1972 mission to rescue Lt. Col.
Hambleton was a very complex affair that lasted for 12 days, the downed
airman finally being rescued by a two-man team consisting of a US Navy SEAL
lieutenant (who won the Medal Of Honour in the process) and a South
Vietnamese Army Ranger. Why not include this in the movie if you're out to
tell anything like the true story? Also, several US aircraft and choppers
were shot down in the process, with 10 American airmen killed and two more
captured. But apart from the superbly done abortive helicopter rescue
attempt and the shooting of the captured crewmen, the movie led us to
believe that the rescue mission merely consisted of Hambleton (Hackman)
escaping & evading on the ground with Clark (Danny Glover) circling above
and talking to him on the radio. In reality, Clark was himself shot down
early in the mission and had to be rescued, and his role in the actual
Hambleton rescue was therefore nothing like that depicted in the film.
But, that said, why let the truth get in the way of a good story? And despite its shortcomings on the historical accuracy front, this was a thoroughly enjoyable film that didn't gloss over or sanitize the horrors of war. Despite my nit-picking, I'd definitely recommend it.
Missed this 1988 film and just recently viewed this outstanding film concerning the Vietnam War. Danny Glover,(Capt. Bartholomew Clark),"Missing in America",'05, who has a flying mission concerning the whereabouts of Gene Hackman,(Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton),"Class Action",'91, who experiences many difficulties and finds out the real truth about what WAR IS ALL ABOUT. They even map out a plan to use a golf course in order to accomplish their mission. There is plenty of action to keep you on the edge of your seats. Whenever Gene Hackman or Danny Glover appear in a film, you know it will be well worth your time. ENJOY
It's an exciting warlike movie that contains over-the-top performances
, continuous suspense , poignant vignettes and unsparing action . An
American officer , Lt. Col. Iceal "Ham" Hambleton (Gene Hackman) is a
weapons countermeasures expert with knowledge vital to the enemy, when
his aircraft is shot down , he is stranded in the wilds of Vietnam .
Alone ,he must rely on himself and a whole army after him. Trapped
behind enemy lines , an only one man (captain Danny Glover) with whom
he has radio contact can save him and to get him out . Based on true
life of a lieutenant colonel stranded deep in Vietcong territory ,
nowadays retired and living in Arizona near a golf camp.
This stirring warlike movie mixes suspense , thrills , rugged action and dialog with lots of intrigue , without losing sight of the continuation of its interesting plot or necessities of war and works on all levels . Although relies heavily on the continuous relationship by means of radio talking among them and their solid interpretations through the enjoyable friendship by oral communication. It gets the right balance between the old-style ¨Objective Burma¨, ¨Battleground¨ and the modern wartime movies as ¨Hamburger Hill¨ and ¨Casualty of war¨ . Noisy action scenes punctuate the tension without breaking it . Gene Hackman is good as a stranded officer alone after his plane is gunned down and top-notch Danny Glover as reconnaissance pilot who becomes determined to save him . Gene Hackman and Danny Glover give terrific acting in this otherwise passable film . Secondary cast is frankly good as Jerry Reed , David Marshall Frank and Clayton Rohner .Atmospheric cinematography by Mark Irwin reflecting faithfully the wilds and woods from Vietnam . Moving musical score fitting to action by Christopher Young . Compassionate thinkers , lovers warfare genre , and pacifists will all find satisfaction here .
The motion picture lavishly produced by also actor Mark Damon is well directed by Peter Markle . Peter is an expert on all kind of genres as comedy as ¨Hot dog , the movie¨, ¨Wagon East¨ the last film of John Candy¨ ; Sci-Fi as ¨White dwarf¨; Sports as ¨Youngblood¨ ; ¨Drama¨ as ¨Personals¨, ¨Nightbreaker¨, and suspense as ¨Through the eyes of a killer¨ and ¨Last days of Frankie the Fly¨ , and Wartime genre as ¨Bat 21¨. Rating : 6,5 . Worthwhile seeing , better than average .
I bought this 80's Vietnam movie ('based on a true story') in the $4.99
bin at the grocery store, staring Gene Hackman as a missile
intelligence Lt. Col. and Danny Glover as a reconnaissance pilot. The
main story is that Hackmann gets shot down in enemy land and has to try
to survive on the VC infested ground until the choppers can pick him
up, something as a mere war 'strategist' behind the front lines he's
never has to do before. The whole movie is basically him in radio
contact with the pilot Glover and their emotional-moral dialog...think
Bruce Willis' character is Die Hard's relationship with Reginald
VelJohnson, it's like that but the centerpiece of the movie.
It's a good patriotic story that has a more or less balanced and realistic portrayal of the war; the American's knowingly and reluctantly firebomb a village with civilians, but the VC sadistically kill wounded American soldiers, all based in reality. I didn't really recognize any of the other cast members, and the director it seems mostly does TV stuff. The movie was filmed in Malaysia, and has a lot of great helicopter footage. The napalm scenes are extensive and well done. More of a story about a man's personal struggle than a straight forward kill the bad guys plot, but definitely worth checking out and is fast paced action.
I'm a fan of war movies and although I still prefer movies about WWI
and WWII, I must say that I also like to watch a good Vietnam movie so
now and then. "Bat*21" certainly deserves that qualification, because
it feels real, never exaggerates in the action scenes and certainly
offered me a lot of 'pleasure' while watching it. (I deliberately put
the word pleasure between brackets, because I don't want you to think
that I find it fun to see people die in a bombardment, being chased
through a minefield, being shot in the head... - I'm not a psychopath).
Although I have some doubts, the movie claims to be based on a true story. It tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton whose observation plane has been shot down by a V.C. missile. Hambleton is the only survivor and because of his expertise in missile weaponry, it is essential for the US Army to find him before the enemy does. The Vietcong is listening to his radio transmissions and comes very close, but one man, Captain Bartholomew Clark, will do anything to help and support him as good as he can.
As I already said, I don't know if everything shown in the movie also happened in reality. I'm not saying that the man has told lies in his book, but Hollywood isn't exactly known for not adding extra's to a story if it makes the movie look better. Still, even if they have done so, I must say that it still is a very nice movie. In my opinion the movie is underrated at this time (6.2/10 after 1,467 votes). Especially thanks to the nice performances of Gene Hackman and Danny Glover, this movie really works well.
Especially Danny Glover was a big surprise. When I first saw him in this movie, all I thought was: 'What is that man doing in this movie?' When I think of him, I still associate him with the "Lethal Weapon" movies. But I admit, what he has done in this movie certainly made me forget about that very quickly. I didn't see him as a cop anymore, I soon started to see him as Captain Bartholomew Clark.
All in all this is a Vietnam movie that certainly deserves a good rating, because it is one of the better in the genre that I've ever seen. It's perhaps no "Platoon" or "Full Metal Jacket", but it is a very good movie and that's why I give it a 7.5/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I thoroughly enjoyed the first 3/4 of this film, and was disappointed
by the "action- comedy" ending.
The story begins true to the feeling if not the details of the actual incident, and revolves around the relationship between Ham, who discovers what war is really about, and Clark, the Forward Air Controller responsible for coordinating his rescue. Ham's confrontation with what happens on the other end of the bombing, his own foolishness that results in his killing a civilian (a bit unbelievable, but dramatically useful), and the ugliness of war, is well portrayed by Hackman. Danny Glover is excellent and sympathetic, in a film that probably boosted his track to stardom.
The special effects were not where the money was spent; seems like they had gas to burn, but no explosives, and the F-5s did not really fit, but these details did not detract from a story well told, until...
SPOILER AHEAD -- the last 20 minutes could have been from a cheesy Golan-Globus action movie. Did they change the director? He did well for 90 minutes or so.
Instead of the true ending -- more narrow escapes from passing VC, lots of bugs, mud, cuts, anxiety and disappointment, until a SEAL in face paint and an ARVN Ranger appear out of nowhere to lead him to an under-fire rescue LZ, we get a lot of silliness. No way would the Green Giant pilot attempt the pickup under fire against orders when no one else is with him. And he should have been taken for proper interrogation. But that could have been just another disappointing detail.
But to have a fixed wing pilot even attempt to fly a helicopter alone was just ridiculous. Stealing an aircraft is not only a career-ender, he would never be able to land (twice) without a Class-A mishap. The whole sequence was stupidly unnecessary. And the pitiful pyrotechnics (little Molotov cocktails) of the final "bombing" sequence looked silly. Having the whole forest go up in a huge bloom of flame (Apocalypse Now) would have been believable, or ripples of plain old explosives throwing mountains of earth in the air. Air strikes are sudden, and incredibly destructive. And the idea of a PBR heading upriver for extraction through a couple of divisions of VC and NVA was just too much.
If this movie had finished like it started, it would of honored the memory of the heroes far better.
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