Like most movies about Vietnam, Uncommon Valor is more about guns and explosions than it is about people, but it’s never dull and the massive battle sequences are among the best the screen has ever offered.
There are still 2,500 American soldiers missing in action in Vietnam. For their families, the war will never end.
In Uncommon Valor Gene Hackman gives one of his toughest and most likeable performances as a Marine Colonel obsessed with the idea that his son is still alive in a prison camp in Laos.
The Washington politicians who are aware of the numbers missing in action refuse to do much about rescue efforts because there’s no financial gain. Hackman decides to take on the job himself, with the aid of the men who were his son’s five best Marine buddies at the time of his capture.
The guys Hackman recruits for the job have been wounded by more than bullets, and the psychological damage still shows. Trained in everything from karate to jungle survival techniques, they make the Green Berets look like a high school pep squad.
With the financial aid of a Texas oil tycoon (Robert Stack) whose own son is missing in action, the small band of twisted veterans builds a POW camp facsimile in Texas, endure a crash course in bodybuilding and basic training, and rehearse the rescue mission down to the last grenade.
It is clear from the start that director Ted Kotcheff is more concerned with stamina and courage under fire than with character development. Uncommon Valor really goes for broke after the men reach Laos (the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where South Pacific (1958) was filmed, provides amazingly similar terrain, and the locations are breathtaking contrasts to the horror and carnage that take place there).
Their weapons confiscated by the CIA in Bangkok, their sightseeing money spent for new artillery and equipment provided by black market gangsters, and their mission nearly destroyed by their fellow Americans, they remain undaunted.
Guided by an opium dealer and his two daughters, they crawl into Laos, drawing combat plans for their final battle. The resulting noise and fire takes its toll on hundreds of Hawaiian extras and gives the film a rowdy and patriotic climax.
Randall “Tex” Cobb