Under Heavy Fire

 

 

Director:  Sidney J. Furie. 

Starring:  Casper Van Dien (Capt. Ramsey), Carr Otis (Kathleen), Jaimz Woolvett (Tex), Joseph Griffin (Red Fuentes), Kenny Johnson (Jimmy Joe Colter), Martin Kove (Father Brazinski), Bobby Hosea (Ray), Daniel Kash (Eric), Austin Farwell (Doc Jordan), Jim Morse (Gunny Bailey), Pablo Espinosa (Chico spaceman), Lance Glass Green (Top Taylor), Noel Trinidad (Capt. Minh), Jason Blicker (Fred), Deborah Zoe (Irene), Jason Cadieux (Brad Jordan), Augusto Victa (Mayor of Ho Chi Minh City), Catherine Cornell (Lt. Thi Sai), Mark Williams (Chicago).

 

A disunited unit from the Vietnam War tries to heal itself.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

 

Good movie.  Tuc Phong Village, Republic of South Vietnam, April 25, 1968.  Part of Echo company, U.S. Marines, is walking into an ambush after disobeying a direct order from Captain Ramsey.  Suddenly artillery fire falls directly on the mutinous group, killing many of them.  The mutinous men blame their Captain for calling down artillery shelling directly on his own men.  Among other things they call him a son of a bitch and some marine declares: "I'll kill him."

A broadcasting network covered Echo company during the war and is now bringing back a small group of the survivors to get their experiences of the new Vietnam.  They land at Son Nhat International Airport, Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  Kathleen is the reporter.  The men are:  Tex Adkins (a car dealer from El Paso); Red Fuentes, leader of Folsom Prison's Tactical Squad; Eric Ames, a professor of Asian Languages at Stanford; Jimmy Joe Colter, free lance security consultant; and Ray Shepard, a pastor.  The only man missing for the moment is Captain Ramsey. 

As the men travel together on a bus, they remember specific incidents about their experiences in Vietnam.  The captain of Echo company had recently been killed and Captain Ramsey arrives as the replacement.  One of the marines declares: "He looks like a god-damn model."  The Captain's introduction is abruptly canceled, as mortar fire rains down on them.  The Captain proved exceptional in battle and the men were impressed. 

City Hall, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  The men are welcomed to the new Vietnam by their Vietnamese hosts.  During a press conference, Captain Ramsey shows up and the tension between him and the men is immediately noticeable. 

Kathleen wants to know what happened at the village.  In order to find out the truth she wants the men to help her re-create the scene at the actual village.  Captain Ramsey refuses to participate.  But Kathleen will not accept no as an answer.  She follows Ramsey around trying to change his mind. 

The Americans are taken out to one of their battlefield sites.  Theymen proceed to have another flashback.  Ray gets himself captured and is taken into a complex of underground tunnels.    The Captain and Doc Jordan go in after him.  They kill a number of Vietnamese before they can rescue him.  Meanwhile, all hell has broken loose above ground.  The men fight well against the Vietnamese, but when they realize they have blown up a bunch of young "girls," they are extremely upset.  Reminiscing about this, Captain Ramsey suddenly agrees to the re-creation.

Da Nang City, former Headquarters U.S. Marines.  The Americans visit, according to the Vietnamese, a "typical U.S. marine battalion headquarters of the American War."  They examine the graffiti on the walls.  One says "We came, We saw, We got conquered."  The men seem a bit embarrassed at the youthful exuberance of some of the graffiti.

Kathleen asks Captain Ramsey about his worst experience.  His worst experience is when the command had 40 Viet Cong corpses dropped on the local village (as punishment for their alleged cooperation with the enemy) from a helicopter, killing some of the villagers. 

Later Kathleen asks Ramsey about a diary he carries with him.  He tells her that he took it from a dead NVA officer.  He had died from the after effects of the explosions from bombs dropped by B-52 bombers.  There were so many bombs that they created their own electrical storm and cut off the oxygen available for breathing.  Ramsey later returns the diary to the dead officer's widow.  She herself has suffered bad facial scarring due to American white phosphorus.  She is very grateful to Ramsey for returning the diary to her.

Tuc Phong Village, within Echo Company's area of operations, April 1968.  Not much about "the" village has changed over time.  Kathleen wants Captain Ramsey to tell her what happened, but he still won't talk.  Later that night the young, naive cameraman, knowing nothing about war and its psychiatric effects, tells the men: "You got to let it go."  Oh, if psychiatry was so simple. 

Kathleen and the Captain go for a run together and then have sex. 

Next stop: Hue City where Echo company faced NVA regulars.  The city was totally untouched by the war, until the famous Tet Offensive.  Some 5,000 enemy troops descended on Hue, dug in and waited for the Americans to come.  At the wall some 83 American soldiers died in the fighting. 

January 31, 1968.  Tet Offensive.  At the west wall of the citadel, their gunnery sergeant is pinned down by heavy enemy fire.  Captain Ramsey sends in a rescue squad.  Gunny is hit in the stomach by grenade shrapnel and soon dies.  The other men are rescued, as well as a recoilless rifle.  They use the heavy weapon to blast enemy positions inside urban buildings.  In the fighting, an enemy soldier shoots a number of Echo company soldiers.  The man escapes with the Americans chasing him.  In the escape the enemy soldier kills the chaplain, Father Brazinski, while he was trying to protect a group of innocent women and children.  The enemy soldiers mixes in with the women and children and Ramsey tells his soldiers to kill just the enemy combatant.  But what happens is a massacre of many of the women and children. 

Ramsey is furious with his troops.  And they are furious with him, using many excuses for their killing a good number of women and children.  Ramsey psychologically abandons his troops and they resent him for calling what they did a massacre and for having abandoned them psychologically. 

After learning about the massacre, Kathleen wants to cancel the re-creation set for the next day for fear of possible violence.  But Ramsey insists on the re-creation saying: "I still don't know the truth."

At the village, more flashbacks revisit the situation.  Ramsey saves two Viet Cong women from being further tortured by South Vietnamese troops.  He then moves his men out or at least tries to.  The men involved in the massacre refuse to obey Ramsey's order saying they will cut through the rice paddies because Ramsey is unknowingly leading them into an ambush.  Ramsey is furious with the men and calls them back, but all in vain. 

A man on point returns to Captain Ramsey and reports that the mutineers are walking into an enemy ambush.  Ramsey tries to call them back but no dice.  So he tells Tex to call down artillery fire on the enemy positions.  But before the Captain can give the artillery coordinates, a huge booby trapped ammunition cache blows up, discovered by the South Vietnamese troops.  In the confusion Ramsey is able to give the correct coordinates for the artillery fire, 0910, but the shaken-up Tex calls in 0901.  The artillery rains down on the mutinous soldiers, instead of the enemy.  Discovering the real cause of the artillery deaths, Tex cannot believe it at first. 

Meanwhile, Colter and Fuentes, out in the rice paddies, each pull out a hand gun.  Fuentes shoots his in the air, but Colter fires a shot and hits Ramsey in the left shoulder.  Colter then fires two more shots, but both hit Ray who throws his body in front of the Captain.  Tex tells Colter that the artillery incident was his fault for having called in the wrong coordinates.  Colter then tries to kill himself, but only manages to wound himself, as Ramsey knocks Colter's gun hand away from his head.   

Luckily, all three wounded men survive.  No charges are filed.  The men reconcile with each other and, more importantly, with Ramsey.  A kind of healing has taken place among the Americans, despite their worst efforts. 

 

 Everyone bears some responsibility for the artillery mishap: the men for firing on innocent men and women at Hue, thereby causing a massacre; Captain Ramsey for psychologically abandoning his men; and Ramsey's superior for refusing to investigate the massacre and pull the soldiers off line.  

Some reviewers don't like the movie because of what it says about the American soldier in Vietnam.  But, if you don't get your patriotic defenses up, the movie feels a bit like a murder mystery with the truth revealed at the end.  I knew something bad had happened to the men that broke up their unit's camaraderie, but not what it was.  The only thing that bothered me about the story was the miscasting of Casper Van Dien as Captain Ramsey.  He was good as the young Captain, but he was just too young-looking and too good-looking to be the older Captain Ramsey.  (Or maybe I should blame the make-up people instead.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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