84C MoPic (1989)
Director: Patrick Sheane Duncan.
Starring: Jonathan Emerson (LT, the lieutenant), Nicholas Cascone (Easy, the radio man), Jason Tomlins (Pretty Boy), Christopher Burgard (Hammer, the machine gunner), Glenn Morshower (Cracker), Richard Brooks (OD, the sergeant), Byron Thames (MoPic, the camera man), Russ Thurman (Unnamed / Radio voice), Joseph Hieu (Unnamed, Truong Nguyen?, wounded Vietnamese prisoner), Don Schiff (Unnamed).
unknown actors star in film shot in documentary style about new lieutenant and cameraman combining with unit in Vietnam to make a training film
Spoiler Warning and Language Warning: below is a summary of the entire film and there are lots of curse words because that's just the way army guys talk.
A camera man from 84C MoPic (MoPic = motion picture) is going along with a unit about to go on a mission in the field. He interviews Lt. Richard B. Drury? (the guys will call him LT) of the 173rd airborne brigade and they are going on a reconnaissance mission in the central highlands. The goal is to record procedure peculiar to this situation. LT goes over to OD (the black Sgt. O'Donogan) and introduces himself. He holds out his right hand for a handshake but OD won't shake his hand. LT says he has their orders and everyone is prepared to move out. OD gets angry and says: "We'll see about that." He walks into the Major's office and LT follows him.
MoPic interviews some of the men going on the mission. There is an E-2 (private) who the men call Easy. He keeps saying that he is "short". He only has 27 more days and a wake-up in Vietnam. Spec-4 (Specialist 4th Class) Baldwin (nick-named Pretty Boy) is from San Bernardino, California. Then there is the Spec-4 who is the unit's machine gunner who the men call Hammer. There is also a Spec-5 nick-named Cracker because he is from South Carolina. MoPic tries to get an interview with OD but the Sarge tells him to get that camera off him. He and the rest of the unit get into a helicopter and take off.
The helicopter lands and the men jump out and rush into the jungle. The men refer to LT as FNG (fucking new guy). Sarge tells them to pipe down, but LT says something. OD turns around and points his M-16 right in LT's face and tells him to be quiet. A little later LT goes to OD and says that he doesn't want a repeat of that performance or he will court-martial OD. OD tells LT that he needs two officers to attest to the offense and he doesn't see another officer out here. LT says he's had infantry training and OD tells him that infantry training doesn't mean shit out here. "We play by Charlie's rules." LT has to calm down. He tells OD that he's a quick learner. OD settles down and says all right, they will teach him.
MoPic asks what's the goal of the mission? It's S.O.S. (same old shit): find Charlie. A couple of the men have marijuana with them but OD takes it away from them and throws it into the brush. LT is going to smoke, but one of men grab the cigarette package from him. LT doesn't like this, but OD tells him to calm down. The enemy can smell the smoke from a great distance away and could give away their position. The men explain to LT that OD is on edge because he thinks LT will be a drag on the unit.
Easy takes some tetracycline. He explains that he got a case of the clap in Sin City. He tells the camera man that the only thing he really hates is the nights out in the field. And now especially so since he has such a short time left in Vietnam. He comments that you get short, you get paranoid. The men listen to a firefight over the radio. Another American unit is being overrun. They had to call artillery down on their own position. LT says that they should have helped the other unit. OD replies: "And gotten wasted with them?" LT says 120 men just died. OD snaps: "Don't be so damn eager to get yourself killed."
Pretty Boy says he can't handle much more of this. OD tells him that this is their last mission and Pretty Bog says he can hack it. Pretty Boy tells the camera man that he's had two months of hell in the field and has been medi-vaked three times. (Along with other times of him being fortunate, Pretty Boy is considered very lucky by the guys.)
Hammer is from a small town. He says he couldn't stand the 9 to 5 drag. And since he wasn't really doing anything anyway he doesn't mind having been drafted. He tells LT that out in the field nobody fucks with them, not even officers. The officers think they're crazy anyway. Hammer adds that OD is always telling the guys that they are the sanest killers the army's got.
The camera man asks Pretty Boy why the guys all wear brass bracelets? Pretty Boy tells him it's because they are brothers. And the leather bracelet Pretty Boy wears? He says he got that from Malibu and the guys laugh.
Cracker says they call him a hillbilly because he's from South Carolina. But they weren't hillbillies, just white trash. The family was very poor. Cracker says he has four children himself. He comments on the army's hiring practices: "The army's the only real equal opportunity employer I ever saw." Is the war right or wrong? Cracker says he doesn't think about that. He does his job. The next question is whether or not Cracker, since he is from South Carolina, minds being led by a black man? Cracker gets offended and says you don't ask those kinds of questions out here. "That's a real world question." He does say that he trusts and loves OD. They've been through a lot together. Still upset, Cracker ends the interview.
OD finds a booby trap. It is a trip wire across the path that is attached to a Chinese communist grenade. OD shows LT the booby trap. He says the first guy gets hit and the other guys dive in the bush for cover. Then they get perforated. OD shows LT the sharpened bamboo sticks stuck in the ground in the vicinity of the booby trap. So OD decides to walk off the trail. They no sooner get off the trail then a unit of the enemy walks right by them. The Americans have to lay flat to hide themselves. In doing so, LT's left forearm gets perforated by a sharpened stake. They have to bandage him up. The men say that there are gooks everywhere. They also say that LT is the first man who ever bled on one of their missions and that's a bad omen.
LT shows OD and the men the key mission positions on the map and OD says that LT has his shit together. The men come across an enemy village. OD says there are some twenty NVA (North Vietnamese Army) regulars, one of them with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). OD gives the men instructions and LT asks what can he do? OD says: "Stay out of our way." Easy asks LT why is he being so hard on them. LT says it seems to him that the guys see this as some kind of game, whereas he sees it as a business enterprise. He is primarily interested in moving up in the army. He tells the guys that he can bring them along with him. LT adds that war is the chance of a lifetime for a career officer.
Easy sets up watch at night. He tells the cameraman that you have to memorize the terrain in front of you, including the shadows. If you know every piece of the terrain then you can tell if something has moved. The next morning Cracker starts putting trash around the area. He explains that this way the enemy will think there are more Americans than there actually are, so they will have to bring a larger unit to handle them and that will mean more noise and their presence can be more easily detected.
Looking at the small village OD realizes that more enemy has arrived over night. He has Easy call in the artillery on the village. Not much longer the shells start landing. When the artillery stops, LT calls in to say their mission is accomplished.
The guys find a group of six gooks. They decide to hit them. Hammer says: "Let's take back some heads." They move into position and blast the group. Then they go check on the dead. One Vietnamese is still alive and Hammer is going to kill him. LT stops him saying they need the man in order to interrogate him for intelligence. Hammer gets very upset saying that the wounded man will be too much of a drag on the unit.
Then the enemy opens up on the men. Pretty Boy is shot and goes down. Easy shouts that the radio has been hit and it doesn't work anymore. Hammer goes to get their wounded comrade, but he gets hit himself in the shoulder. Every time Pretty Boy even moves slightly he gets shot again. He is shot so many times that he takes out one of his grenades to kill himself. Instead, OD shoots Pretty Boy, presumably for the purpose of ending his suffering.
When the enemy leaves they place Pretty Boy in a body bag. OD takes one dog tag for the army and then tapes the other dog tag inside Pretty Boy's mouth. The Sarge then tells LT that he has a choice. Take Pretty Boy or the gook. LT says Pretty Boy is dead. Easy snaps that Americans never leave their dead behind. OD says to LT that if they leave the Vietnamese prisoner, he'll tell on them to his comrades and they'll come after them. Besides they are low on ammunition and Hammer is wounded and has to be helped. LT agrees to the killing of the Vietnamese man. But OD now demands that LT himself kill the man. LT doesn't like the idea, but thinks he has to do it. He pulls out his pistol, but OD stops him. He hands him a knife and tells him this way the killing will be nice and personal. And this way LT will have his own private KIA (killed in action). LT is about to stab the wounded man, when OD stops him still again. He says LT might as well know who he is killing. He takes the papers of the man and finds out the man's name. He also finds out that the fellow is only nineteen years of age and he has a wife and children.
After more hesitation, LT stabs the man in the chest. But the knife doesn't go far enough into the man. OD is disgusted with LT and stabs the prisoner in the gut. This kills the prisoner. OD then tells Easy that he better melt down their busted radio with the white phosphorus.
The men find a small group of Viet Cong and OD and some of the other men go to the attack. When they come back, LT sees that OD is wounded in the stomach. OD yells at LT for not joining in on the attack, but LT shouts back that he was guarding the rear, just like he learned in the training books. OD relents. But then he discovers that his friend Cracker has been hit by three bullets in the gut. Cracker keeps saying that it isn't anything, that he has seen guys hurt a lot worse and still survive. But Cracker doesn't survive. OD is very upset over the loss of his friend. They put Cracker in a body bag. OD says they will send a helicopter to pick up the bodies.
There are five men left, including the camera man. They have to stop to tend to the wounds of the men. Hammer uses tape around his thigh to stop the bleeding from a wound. He tells the camera man that if he doesn't make it, tell his folks that he did a good job: "I did the best job I could do." He starts crying, but he cheers himself up by saying that he now has Pretty Boy's luck. Easy talks with OD and asks him for help. He says he is getting flaky and he doesn't want to die. OD tells him he'll take care of him. LT says he's going to take over now that OD is wounded. OD says no, and he'll even take point. LT has to back down.
But Hammer is told to take point (the position of being out in front of the other men to warn them if necessary). He starts walking ahead of the survivors and steps on a mine. The explosion and shrapnel kill him. They have to leave Hammer's corpse behind without putting it in a body bag. The survivors make it to a village where they are to be picked up by a helicopter. They see a number of dead women and wonder if their people or the enemy did this? They set up a make-shift defensive position. Easy wants to know from OD if he is going to die? OD is able to calm him down. LT is given the task of setting off red smoke to tell the helicopter pilot and the machine gunner with him that the landing zone is hot with the enemy. Easy says the Lord's Prayer over and over to himself.
At this time the enemy opens up on the four men. OD and Easy return fire. The helicopter lands and the machine gunner opens up on the enemy. OD tells the guys to get on the helicopter. He is going to hold them off. The camera man gets on the helicopter and Easy is about to when he decides to head back and get OD. LT is already helping OD walk to the copter. They make it and get on. But Easy is hit in the leg and goes down. He gets up but is hit again, this time in the back and goes down again. And again he is hit, this time while on the ground.
The helicopter takes off without Easy. The pilot radios in that one friendly is still in the zone.
Good movie. I was in the National Guard during the Vietnam War doing my basic training and advanced individual training. Along with war stories, I heard most of the curses and other clever phrases and sayings that are in the film from the Vietnam veterans at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Benning, Georgia. It was interesting hearing those phrases again. It brought back memories. There is a lot of down time in the military and the men use and even make up all kinds of crazy things to say. The movie is a little slow at first, but it really picks up near the end with lots of shooting. It was interesting how the young men looked up to OD, treating him as some kind of superhero. Most of the men felt that they owed their lives to OD because of his actions and because of his knowledge about the ways to fight the war. OD may not have liked the lieutenant with them, but he certainly played the role of father to the men when necessary.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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