Originally entitled "Nam," this film was released as "Platoon Leader" to cash in on the success of "Platoon," which had been released the previous year. Unfortunately, this sank it, and most everyone dismissed this is an imitation of the latter film. However, I feel that this might be one of the finest films about the Vietnam War around, and that's due to the fact that it knows the genre of war films and it knows what to take seriously and what to regard as pure action.
In war films, particularly ones about the Vietnam War, there has always been a question about which angle to approach: a human, emotional story or a pure action-adventure. This film handles the question well, and it shows us both. The film covers a new U.S. captain joining a platoon that is set up on a hill with orders to protect a small village. The story of how he must earn the right to be called the captain of such a motely group, and how the men themselves must struggle about just what they are fighting for in this war, is extremely moving. The writers choose to represent many different attitudes, all of which were present in the war: fear, reluctance, discontent, indifference, and honor. Each character is painted vividly and with wonderful acting, and through their tragedy and suffering, the viewer gets a better understanding of what went on during America's darkest hour.
On the other hand, this film also contains some nicely-directed action sequences that know how to get the heart-beat going. They don't neccessarily glorify war, but they are very Rambo-esque, and made in an effort to satisfy action fans. It is the essence of these action scenes, combined with the human characters who have to pick up the pieces of each battle and move on with their daily, emotional struggles, that really makes this film tick.
This film was directed by Chuck's brother Aaron Norris, who lost a brother to the Vietnam War. Indeed, this must have been a difficult film to shoot because of that, but he certainly paid his brother a fitting tribute in this underrated war epic.
**** out of ****
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