Hamburger Hill | Chicago Reader

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The three critical questions to be asked of any movie are (1) what does it try to do? (2) does it succeed? and (3) is it worth doing? This film tries to make a conventional, “apolitical” combat story out of one of the most brutal battles fought in Vietnam, and succeeds impressively. Writer/coproducer Jim Carabatsos, drawing on his own Vietnam combat experience, trots out most of the cliches we remember from 40s and 50s war films and still manages to give them some ring of truth; director John Irvin leads 14 unknown actors through gritty action sequences and deft ensemble playing (Courtney B. Vance's angry black medic is a particular standout). The question that remains is whether it's worth doing another uncritical war-is-photogenic-hell excursion—accommodating the Vietnam experience to the same unquestioning, grunt-level perspective that sustained us through World War II and Korea while priming us for still more noble sacrifices by steadfastly refusing to look any further. Less pretentious than Platoon and more attentive to the Vietnamese than The Deer Hunter, this picture proposes with a great deal of skill and sincerity that we honor and respect the men who suffered on our behalf without even beginning to consider why they did so, or to what effect. With a typically banal score by the once interesting Phil Glass.

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