If you've never heard of this movie before, you're in good company. Apparently, neither have Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert, or the editors of the "VideoHound Golden Movie Retriever." Fortunately, the editor of VideoHound's book on war movies had heard of it. Based on his favorable review, I taped and viewed the film recently. If you enjoy a good "battle" movie, be sure to catch this one--you won't be disappointed.
"The Siege of Firebase Gloria" is a real film about real people in an unreal hell. Its apparently low budget was a blessing because it forced the creators to focus on plot and character development rather than on bombastic and meaningless special effects. Nevertheless, the battle sequences are believable and well-done.
This film is a sleeper that apparently did not get the exposure that it deserved. Then again, R. Lee Ermey and Wings Hauser, who played the lead roles, are not exactly box-office draws, and the other names in the cast were totally unfamiliar to me. However, Ermey, Hauser, and everyone in the cast do a solid job.
The action takes place during the Vietnamese Tet offensive in 1968, during a supposed holiday cease-fire, when the Viet Cong caught the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces by surprise with an all-out assault throughout South Vietnam. Ermey and his Marines are caught in the trap when they are ordered to help defend a small, meaningless outpost, Firebase Gloria, with virtually no help except, finally, from a small Air Cavalry unit. The Tet offensive was the beginning of the end for South Vietnam.
I never served in Vietnam, but this film has the feeling of being authentic. This is not a simplistic "good guys versus bad guys" film. The atrocities and inhumanities committed by both sides are not overemphasised but they are not glossed over either. They are just there as part of the fabric of the war.
Perhaps more importantly, they are shown in the context of a deadly, virtually unsurvivable siege and final battle. We sympathize with the Marines, of course, and we see them as ordinary, basically decent human beings. We may not condone some of the things that they do, but we understand why they may have seen no other alternative. It reminds me of the film "Zulu," about British troops trapped in a similar situation a century ago.
For many of us, our image of R. Lee Ermey is as the over-the-top drill sergeant in "Full Metal Jacket." His character in "Firebase Gloria" is more human and lower in key, yet you can see his character evolving into the drill sergeant following his tour in Vietnam. When you've walked through hell with your fellow battle-hardened Marines and been one of the few to come out alive, you know that you have to do everything in your power to prepare your green recruits to walk through that same hell.
Is "Firebase Gloria" on the same level of quality as "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket"? Not quite. I'd put it on a par with "Go Tell the Spartans," which, despite a strong performance from Burt Lancaster, has also never gotten the exposure that it deserves. These films deserve to be seen, not forgotten.
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