'Ambush' Review: Movie Stars Steal Foot Soldiers' Valor

‘Ambush’ Review: Movie Stars Steal Foot Soldiers’ Valor

Boasting an intriguing premise, a compelling set, and often crisp and beautiful cinematography, Mark Burman”Ambushalmost qualifies as an above-average Vietnam-era nail-biter — minus the hopelessly below-average performances contributed by the two actors whose names are highest in its credits block. aaron eckart And Jonathan Rhys Meyersgenerally complex and engaging even in roles as small as these, play characters perched lazily outside of the main story while Connor PaoloGregory Sims, Jason Genao and others do the heavy lifting of the narrative left over after their most marketable co-stars cash their paychecks.

Nonetheless, smarter and more entertaining than one might expect from a small-scale, outwardly familiar story like this, “Ambush” feels like a throwback – mostly in a good way – to the ‘Namsploitation’ movies. that companies like Cannon produced in the 1980s, when wartime stories were most commercially popular.

Paolo plays Cpl. Ackerman, the educated but inexperienced young commander of a small outpost in Quang Tri province who becomes a flashpoint for the conflict when Viet Cong forces show up – seemingly out of nowhere – to retrieve a filing cabinet containing crucial data on their secret agents which was stolen by US Army spies. Although Captain Mora (Sims), originally sent to the camp to intercept the binder upon its acquisition, successfully aids Ackerman in repelling the wave of enemy combatants, their joint senior officer, General Drummond (Eckhart), orders them to follow. their adversaries in the jungle, map the underground network of tunnels that allowed them to take American forces by surprise, and recover the filing cabinet or destroy all evidence of its existence. To help them, Drummond also sends Miller (Meyers), a tracker with a dog who “thinks outside the box”.

Mora sends Ackerman underground with his team, a group of mostly fresh and terrified engineers with little or no combat experience, while Miller searches for traces of the Viet Cong on the surface. Determined to prove himself – as much to himself as to his men or superiors – Ackerman takes it upon himself to measure the maze of tunnels while occasionally encountering enemy forces that force him to make life or dead in a split second. But when Drummond decides to limit the hunt, in the jungle or underground, to an inflexible two-hour window, Ackerman races to achieve his goals, even as Mora’s comrade, Crawford (Mac Brandt), is ordered to ensure that no trace of the mission remains. after the deadline – whether she succeeds or not.

Written by Burman, Johnny Lozano and Michael McClung, “Ambush” uses its many timeless “men on a mission” tropes to explore subterranean warfare, a phenomenon little known before the Vietnam conflict but which has since been portrayed in many countless movies about it. , from “Platoon” to “Casualties of War” to dozens more. Narratively and thematically, this gives Burman the opportunity to explore multiple levels of military decision-making, from high-ranking individuals sending orders down the chain of command to grunts fighting for their lives in the trenches ( or in this case, by hand-dug tunnel systems), while staging the action in different settings – light and dark, dramatic and intimate, tropical and muddy. What it also inadvertently does is showcase the division of labor on a film set between named “stars” and the actors of lesser-known characters who work hard to make them look good with little or no credit.

Paolo, who began his career portraying the child version of the characters played by Kevin Bacon and Colin Farrell in ‘Mystic River’ and ‘Alexander’, is unambiguously the star of this film – and he wears it just as smartly, and much more confidence, than his anxious engineer commands his men. Burman takes Ackerman on a nuanced and emotional hero’s journey as he confronts the horrific realities of battle and the heavy responsibilities of leadership, and Paolo navigates his ambitions, doubts, shortcomings and growth with considerable substance. By comparison, Meyers gives a noticeably softer advantage than one might expect to Miller’s hunter, but otherwise spends more time arguing with his canine companion than sparring with his castmates, while Eckhart acts exclusively via shortwave radio in a bunker that’s likely no closer to the rest of the film’s Colombian filming locations than audiences will watch.

Perhaps anticipating what little help he would receive from actors whose names likely helped the film get financed, Burman and his co-writers do an above-average job of weaving the consequences of questionable character decisions into their story, though Mora’s neglect on more than one occasion with the binder seems worthy of a performance review or even a court-martial. But as the wet-behind-the-ears engineers charge into the fight, Genao, Jaime López, Luke Stanton Eddy, Matte Martinez and the rest of the cast are in place and arriving more than fending for themselves as they navigate through a tunnel system. endlessly confusing where their every turn could bring them face to face with an opponent much more prepared to kill them than the other way around.

Burman’s biggest credit to date was as producer of Paul Schrader’s 2016 film “Dog Eat Dog,” but in the director’s chair he juggles a variety of landscapes with skill, and most importantly, without sensationalism: whether depicting an all-out assault on Ackerman’s camp or the close, dark fights of him and his men underground, he creates vivid and purposeful imagery that fuels the story and creates real intensity. At the same time, in a story whose coda attempts to reconcile the futility of individual sacrifice with particularly hollow platitudes about eternal life as part of something bigger, there is no small irony that ‘it brings together a cast of (mostly) fresh faces who, rather than dutifully carrying the water of their marquee counterparts, eclipse them at every turn.

But while it’s not a film that rivals the quality or seriousness of Vietnam War film standard bearers like “The Deer Hunter” or “Full Metal Jacket,” “Ambush” ultimately delivers. an adventure more believable than the cartoonish bombshell of their counterfeit competitors (then or since) – and more than a handful of real thrills.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *