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06.04.08

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Phaedra

Hamburger Hill: 20th Anniversary Edition

One disc; Lionsgate Home Entertainment; $19.98

By Richard von Busack


One of the least known and most honorable films about the American side of the Vietnam War, 1987's Hamburger Hill concerns the particularly brutal battle in May 1969 for Hill 937 in the perilous A Shau Valley. The hill got its ghoulish nickname because of the losses the 101th Airborne suffered during a siege worsened by death by friendly fire from U.S. helicopters. As the Samuel Fuller–worthy sergeant, Dylan McDermott gives what is now apparent as the performance of his career. The young Don Cheadle plays a watchful soldier who appears to have more on the ball than the latest shipment of "FNG" replacements—who are such fuckin' new guys that they don't even know what FNG stands for. But it's Courtney B. Vance who really stands out. As the medical officer, he gives a compelling and historically accurate image of the way some black men of 1969 dealt with racism: with heavy, ironic courtesy and lethal outbursts of temper. Director John Irvin had been a combat photographer in Vietnam, which may account for the film's gravity; either that, or the theme music by Philip Glass. Still, Hamburger Hill occasionally reinforces the 1987 line about Vietnam—how the troops were stabbed in the back by politicians and the public. Since this is the understandable view of any foot soldiers fighting any war, it would hardly be worth nothing, except that this line is being flogged lately by revisionist historians, who are convinced that we were just that close to winning, if it hadn't been for those meddling Berkeley kids. Added tracks include commentary from writer, producer and 'Nam vet Jim Carabatsos, as well as actors Anthony Barrile, Harry O'Reilly and Daniel O'Shea. Expect to see this film heavily parodied in the upcoming Tropic Thunder.


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