A Vietnam veteran is put on trial for firing at civilians in a rescue mission that went wrong. His attorney is an ex-soldier the colonel saved back in combat, but even he starts to doubt his client's credentials
Typified by the likes of 'A Few Good Men', 'Courage Under Fire' and, most brilliantly, 'Breaker Morant', the military legal drama is a variety of movie that allows big themes of the ethics and ambiguities of war to be hurled around among all those familiar dramatic highs that the wood-panelled courtroom can muster. Frustratingly, though, Friedkin's thriller is big and bloated, diving for cover in crass, flag-waving hysteria and grinding formula.
Using flashback to present the Vietnam backstory (seemingly shot somewhere deep in the Blue Peter garden), and bounding to the present and a Middle Eastern crisis, the film opens in a flurry of combat to deliver the central set-up as Childers' men attack the inflamed rioters. Immediately, there is a fascinating dilemma here: is it permissible to open fire on women and children if they are firing at you in a combat situation? Can necessity ever overrule morality?
However, the lumpy script waves away ambiguity and boils the film down to a simplistic courtroom showdown. Moreover, as the film nastily insinuates, this was the American embassy, sovereign soil and these were marines the gibbering maniacs were shooting at - so anything is permissible.
Surprisingly, the performances, from such a reliable pair as these, are thin. Jones is marginally the better, playing the worn-down, post-'Nam cynic with a shrugging apathy. Jackson just lazily retreads various bits of previous turns - the fury and bluster of Pulp's Jules, the edgy emotion of 'The Negotiator's Danny Roman and that shouty thing where he is required to shriek "motherfucker", like he does in every movie.
And while it is delivered with due Hollywood professionalism and is kind of watchable, the aftertaste is definitely a sour one.
Stilted direction and limp performances from a good cast in this lame moral dilemma piece that ends in a simplistic courtroom showdown. Dreary.