As a kid, I used to laugh at my mom for something she did whenever an actor died. A few months after their death, a trailer would come out with a movie they starred in. My mom would say, “Huh? They just died. That must be their last movie.” And a few months later, a new movie with that same actor, and it would perplex her even more. I tried explaining that, after movies are filmed, there are months, sometimes years, before the films see the light of day (or…the darkness of the theatre).
It’s a shame that Peter Fonda’s (who died on August 16, 2019) last movie couldn’t be The Ballad of Lefty Brown, an underrated Western, instead of this.
This movie was shot around the same time in 2017, and with an all star cast, it’s finally being released.
It’s not just the Easy Rider who is in this, but two from the Marvel Universe — Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) and Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury). Stan plays Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (a fictional character, in a real life story), who doesn’t seem to care much for his job, and is on the verge of losing his job, with the Secretary of Defense unexpectedly announcing his retirement.
As he barks to his secretary (LisaGay Hamilton) about cancelling his 11:00 o’clock, we see a Vietnam Vet (William Hurt) tilting his head all around, in those usually movements Hurt does when he’s on screen (His name is so appropriate, because he always looks like he’s “hurt” on screen, either physically or emotionally). Hurt plays a Vietnam Vet who wants the late William “Pits” Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Scott Huffman (Stan) is now tasked with talking to former soldiers to see if Pits deserves the honor.
At first, the movie played like The West Wing-light. Then it reminded me of the underrated Courage Under Fire (how Denzel Washington didn’t get nominated for an Oscar in that, is beyond me).
Pits was a medic that decided, during one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War (Battle of Xa Cam My), he would leave the helicopter he was in and stay on the field to help soldiers, since the unit’s medic was shot. He saved over 60 lives, including the helicopter pilot, but it cost him his.
The flashbacks to the war are well done, and put you right in the thick of it. The problem is how ridiculous the rest of the movie was. With each famous actor Huffman talks to, my wife and I would look at each other and ask “What the hell?”
Because each person, for reasons that aren’t clear, is incredibly hostile to Huffman. It made no sense, since they all wanted Pits to get the Medal. Now, I’m guessing they’re trying to show you that all the bureaucratic red tape, that has made this award 30 years overdue, has bothered them.
It was all a bit heavy-handed, especially with the constant score trying to evoke emotion from us.
So after we sit through Hurt lecturing him for not knowing the ranks of soldiers or anything else, we see Huffman visit Samuel Jackson, who is fishing with his grandkids. Jackson promptly grabs the man’s tape recorder and throws it into the river. Nice.
Amy Madigan starts barking and yelling at Huffman the minute he drives up, saying that her husband has PTSD and a bunch of other things, which means he has to sleep during the day. Huffman waits, sleeping in his truck, only to have Peter Fonda creep up on him and start shooting a live gun off and strangling a rabbit [insert your own Hanoi Jane Fonda joke here].
The next is Ed Harris, who isn’t killing rabbits, but watermelons. He’s shooting them at a gun range and lecturing Huffman on the horrors of war. Oy.
Writer/director Todd Robinson (Lonely Hearts, White Squall, and Phantom, with Ed Harris) doesn’t properly use his all star cast. There’s a way to do this with big name actors that adds a nice gravitas. The military picture The Messenger did that wonderfully.
In this, we never get enough character development on who these people actually are. Jackson merely lifting his shirt to show the scars, isn’t enough.
Bradley Whitford is perfectly cast as Huffman’s boss, although listening to him always suggest ways this task can be pushed aside or buried in paperwork, got old. Again, I think of movies that wrote those scenes better, like in A Few Good Men when Kevin Bacon tries telling Tom Cruise at a softball game, how easy a case will be for him to just waltz in and make a settlement.
Pits parents are played by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd (I told you this was an all star cast), and their scenes are rather powerful (it’s a shame the commercials give away something involving Plummer).
The rest of the stellar cast includes John Savage, and Robert Pine. As a kid, I loved the work Savage did in The Deer Hunter and Inside Moves (he was also in the director’s White Squall). I also dug Pine in CHiPs (hey, I was a kid). He’s probably more well-known now as the father of Chris.
This movie might have its (purple) heart in the right place, but I can’t recommend it.
1 ½ stars out of 5.