84C MoPic (1989)
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8/10 or ***1/2 stars out of ****
The difference with other movies is that it gives a lot of attention to the detail of going on a small 5 man, 5 day mission as the LRRPs did. There is a lot of attention paid to noise discipline, and when enemy shots ring out, you have to work out for yourself from where. The enemy is seen up close only once in this movie.
There is no heavy handed treatment of "politics" as in Hamburger Hill, no lots of nonsense like in Platoon, just five (seven) guys who are thrown together and have a job to do, and hopefully come through alive.
If you like it, you may also like Sniper, with Tom Berenger and Billy Zane.
I was not in combat or in Vietnam, but I was in the Army at that time. Several of my Army friends had jobs making films exactly as shown in 84 Charlie MoPic. This is as accurate a picture of an American combat soldier's experience in Vietnam as any I can imagine. The first time I saw it, I was totally taken in, thought it was an actual documentary until the very end.
Incidentally, 84C or 84 Charlie is (or was) the code for the "military occupational specialty" of Motion Picture Specialist.
The boots were tied right and worn-out in the right places. The rucks were heavy and carried like people who did that a lot. They wore their equipment right and each had the fitness level of an infantryman. The short-timer caught the spirit of what it meant to be short. Our short timers said the same stupid comments. "I'm so short I could halo off a dime" is funny the first time you hear it, not the 50th.
Every squad seems to have the same people in it. This movie captured that to a "T." They talked way to much for a LRRP unit but it makes sense if you put grunts in front of a camera.
Hands down one of the most realistic war movies ever made. In subtle ways this captures what it is like to be a grunt.
The first person perspective throughout the movie adds to the impact and lends a realism that conventional cinematography wouldn't have been able to pull off.
The violence (it IS a war movie) is very realistic and disconcerting, which further involves the viewer in the movie. Moreso, this movie investigates the personal dynamics of the group of soldiers, set into the horror of the situation.
In retrospect, the story and characters are really nothing you've not already seen. The stereotypical archetypes are represented, the redneck, the scared short-timer, etc, but while you watch this movie, the combination of a documentary style filming and first person perspective, combine to make this film feel new and refreshing. Granted "Blair Witch" had a similar feel, but this pre-dated that film by 10 years and pre-dated "The Last Broadcast" (from which the "Blair Witch" was nicked) by 9 years.
If you can find a copy of this film. Settle in, crank it up and immerse yourself in it. It isn't the same as "the real thing": it isn't even close, nothing is. But it does let you glimpse into the world, without the fake slo-mo sequences, mood enhancing soundtrack, and trappings that separate you from "real life", and you can actually almost believe this IS a documentary.
The cast of relative unknowns really impresses, especially Nicholas Cascone as "Easy" ("soon to be promoted to PFC: Private F***ing Civilian") and Richard Brooks as "OD", the group's black leader.
The spirit of camraderie and brotherhood echoes strongly throughout this film, exemplified by scenes such as the one where Sgt. "Cracker", a self confessed redneck, is interviewed by the "Lessons Learnt" crew and is asked: "Coming from South Carolina, how do you feel about being led by a black man?". After a strained silence he answers: "Those are real-world questions. They don't have any place here in the Nam. Why don't you ask if OD is the best damn GI I have ever humped a ruck with, or if I would risk my life for him, and I have, or if he would risk his life for me, and he has. Those are the kind of questions you should be asking."
The action is interspersed with long periods of waiting, boredom, and contemplation. The futility of their mission, and indeed the entire war, is brought to the fore. They feel distanced from their loved ones, and long for some time "in the rear with the gear", away from the front lines, which are plagued by a shadow-like enemy and viciously effective booby-traps, not to mention the seemingly endless nights, when trees move just like Charlie.
This movie is recommended not only to War flick fans, but to anybody interested in seeing how a pseudo-documentary should really be made.
7 out of 10
TRAILER 720p(upscaled) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrc3U4X2aZ0
One can tell the film is low-budget, if nothing else, because of the lack of action. It's possible that the director might have been tempted to up the ante if he had more to work with, or bigger-name stars. But as with other under-the-radar "B movies" about war, less can be more depending on the script and the actors given. No one is really too recognizable here (some actors went on to do TV, others didn't, they were all fresh faces to me), and that adds to the believability. No one is an action hero, and some are just scared so much you can feel it through clenched teeth. There's jokes told here and there, some big words, and steely glances. No one in this company going through Charlie's territory likes it one iota, not even LT, who is looking perhaps to rise in the ranks of what he sees as a "corporation" like Gulf & Western. Another soldier rightfully quips, 'or Engulf and Devour.'
The approach that writer/director/former-vet Duncan does is not the first of its kind in terms of style (he was preceded by at least a few years by Cannibal Holocaust's method of first-person cinematography and point of view), but it's the first film I can think of that uses not only the approach but the person holding the camera as part of the story. MioPic is a guy who has been editing footage for a while at a nearby base, and gets cans and cans of films to look at; some have nothing, other ones, well, they keep him up at night. That this isn't just a passive observer adds to the tension when it comes time to shoot the combat footage (however little it is, though it makes sense after a while), since he's got to have the balls to keep up and not look away. It covers the problem that certain horror films have when one wonders why the camera wouldn't just turn off after a while. We are, as they are, stuck in a fixed position. Oddly enough it kind of is the predecessor of the real-life approach to filming most of the documentary Restrepo. Again, for another review on that one.
While one could nitpick certain things with the style- such as, there being perfect sound but it being a camera circa 1968 or 1969, which means a sound guy or at least a boom operator would need to be around, and who isn't- but it's really about the men on screen, men that Duncan himself may have known to an extent. It should be noted that not all of the characters are originals either. There's the cocky guy, the quiet focused man (no interviews), the country white-trash guy (actually, he's not as conventional as you'd expect), and a few other types. The approach in how long we stick with the guys, just them talking, before a shot is even fired, does do something crucial: we are with them for so long that they become real and we can feel the pain when one is hurt, or , eventually, as they're picked off. Some of this is so powerful that one can overlook certain similarities to other war films (i.e. the 'sniper-shooting-soldier' scene in Full Metal Jacket, a heated exchange of one soldier to another from Platoon).
It's a character piece that gets us feeling for what these soldiers had to go through, how insane it was just to get from point A to B to C, how its 'corporation' of sorts was neither a real business or a game, perhaps something in between. It's far from perfect, but it's alive and kicking as a testament to people in war. It never trivializes, or makes it very "fun", but it's hard to look away. Unlike Rambo (which I did not hate by the way), it's as true as it can be.
Unquestionably, the conceit of "84C MoPic" is nothing short of brilliant. A combat photographer (Byron Thames of "Johnny Dangerously") films a reconnaissance unit choppered into the bush as a training film for the military. Deane's distinctive film then has not only an immediacy about it but it also contains a clever rational for its artless artistry. The closest thing in real life to "84C MoPic" is John Houston's World War II documentary "The Battle of San Pietro." Everything is seen from the camera and the camera is constantly in the rear because no cameraman would expose himself to enemy fire by standing in front of his own troops. The hand-held, cine'ma ve'rite' style of film-making fuels the realism of "84C Charlie MoPic." The soldiers do nothing in this movie that isn't thoroughly believable. The procedure of bagging and tagging a body hammers home hard the lack of glamor. "84C MoPic" manifests few pretensions and the character never argue about the validity of the Vietnam.
If genuinely artistic photography were the only necessity for a great movie, then Deane's film would have amounted to a classic. Unfortunately, despite the excellence of Deane's first-person, in-your-face technique, "84C MoPic" provides only intermittently entertainment as an action-packed war story. Deane populates his screenplay with relatively bland, one-dimensional characters that rarely engage our sympathy. They lack charisma. Since we never become emotionally attached to any of them, the ones that die generate little concern for us. The G.I. humor is old and stale. Ultimately, despite some tense moments of combat near the end, "84C MoPic" is not memorable in the least. None of the characters stand out and the enemy is rarely seen. Deane occasionally undermines his powerful atmosphere of realism by having his camera running during a dangerous moment. Would anybody seriously risk their life by photographing an unsuspecting enemy who might hear the sounds of film whirling through their camera?
Primarily, Deane's screenplay is an anthology of war story clichés. "84C MoPic" replicates the World War II movie cliché that the unit contained an ethnic collection of oddballs. Alas, these guys are bland, and the story is for the most part boring. There is the guy with less than a month to go before he is shipped home but is paranoid about his chances of survival. There is the green, inexperienced lieutenant, LT (Jonathan Emerson of "Graveyard Shift"),who couldn't find his own dog tags with his hands in broad daylight but volunteered for combat to earn a promotion. There is the angry black man simply named OD(Richard Brooks of NBC-TV's "Law & Order") who threatens to kill his superior officer. There is a backwoods North Carolina redneck,Cracker (Glenn Morshower of "Black Hawk Down"), who turns a blind eye to the black man and considers him a true brother, something that he admits would never happen back home. Each character addresses the other by their nicknames: 'Pretty Boy,''L-T,' 'Cracker,' and 'OD.' The performances are ordinary enough.
Nobody hams it up, but they don't make much of an impression. There is nothing incredibly gory. The closest to real violence is the scene where an enemy sniper targets Pretty Boy. The sniper keeps on shooting the soldier and nobody can come to rescue. At one point, the soldier even tries to blow himself up with a hand grenade. Although the story is neither original nor dramatic enough, "84C MoPic" deserves three silver stars for its technique and its interpretation. The irony of the ending is a neat touch. Mind you, this movie isn't as memorable as "Apocalypse Now," "The Deer Hunter," or "Platoon," but it is worth watching.
Altogether, "84C MoPic" still qualifies as a unique film that is too realistic for its own good. Surprisingly, given the potential of the premise, nobody has remade it with a big budget for special effects.
This is what is today referred to as found footage movie. The movie is filmed through MoPic's camera point of view. What I love the most are the little insightful moments of the cat and mouse game with the North Vietnamese. Some of the 'talk' with the group gets a bit too written. Asking Cracker about his black leader is too on-the-nose. The low budget doesn't interfere too much. It forces the movie to focus on the small group. The action isn't as compelling as one would expect because it does get confused. In a way, it's more realistic but less cinematic. This is a fascinating experiment in filmmaking.
Having said this, I just wish I could say I liked the movie more. On paper, it sounds like a good concept that has considerable potential. In practice it doesn't really work so well. It's very low budget is always obvious and it never really feels like we are ever in Vietnam, it looks more like a forest in the American Everglades or something. Not only this but it is very slow-paced and relies on dramatics far more than on action. Nothing wrong with that but the problem is that for this to work the script has to be decent but sadly for the most part the dialogue is fairly poor and the characters are not especially well defined, not helped by quite mediocre acting. Don't get me wrong, it has moments of interest, such as a tense interview scene which illustrated how racial differences that are an issue in civilian life cease to be relevant in the context of a combat platoon. There is also a dramatic scene in which an enemy soldier is captured and the manner in which this is dealt with showcases the ugliness of war; while the ending of the film worked quite well even if it was a little sudden. So, there are good moments in this movie, yet for the most part I found it to be a plodding and overly limited production. I give it credit for ideas but its execution was very lacking.
Still "84 Charlie MoPic" is quite a personal, gut-wrenching and gritty look into the exploits on the front-line. It doesn't shy away either, giving the characters plenty of time to bond and open up with their differing perspectives. It's driven by its dialogues/characters, as it's in the details, commonplace but realistic. Sometimes a little slow and meandering, but those looking for constant action will be hugely disappointed, as when it occurs its only minor and the Viet Cong are kept mainly unseen, but it does have impact because we feel every inch of pain, discomfort and disorientation the soldiers encountered. This is where the intensity arrives from; the chemistry and respect between the men. That when they start getting picked off in quick concession, the intimate styling crafted gave it a more grounded sense that played to its strengths. It's primal, instinctive, as their combat training makes little headway in their quest for survival. There are no rules in this war, where danger is always there. The performances are raw, but believable and well-delivered by a bunch of no names. The low-scale handling gives it an organic, but tight and humid touch Written and directed by Patrick Luncan, he makes good use of the one idea concept and lets it flow accordingly to achieve maximum effect.
The docu-drama style complements the narrative brilliantly.
No big budget effects means the real story unfolds without punctuation. Every scene has a reason to be there & each one contributes to the story.
This is not only the best Vietnam movie I have ever seen, it is possibly the best small unit war movie ever made. The enemy is everywhere but nowhere - we only ever see one opposing soldier close up.
The characters are without exception very well done. The leads, Sgt GD, Easy & Lt are really well supported by the rest of this small cast. If you only ever watch one movie about Vietnam, make it this one.