The misguided 1966 mission known as Operation Abilene resulted in one of the bloodiest massacres of US Army troops in the Vietnam War. As men are falling right and left, from above like the ultimate deus ex machina comes Pararescue Jumper William H. Pitsenbarger, Jr. (Jeremy Irving), an Air Force medic who that day saved dozens of lives, even going so far as to wave off his chopper, pick up a rifle and join the fighting before he himself was killed.
His mates put him in for the Medal of Honor, but he was instead awarded the second-best Air Force Cross. Thirty-four years later a (fictitious) hotshot Pentagon Lawyer (Sebastian Stan) is tasked with learning the reason for the downgrade and unearths some major military ass-covering. To do this he interviews survivors of Pits’s unit as well as the men he saved, and this is where the film shines.
Get a load of this cast: Bradley Whitford, LisaGay Hamilton, William Hurt, Christopher Plummer, Diane Ladd, Samuel L. Jackson, Amy Madigan, Peter Fonda, Ed Harris, John Savage and more. It’s nearly impossible to make a bad movie with this kind of stable.
Still, as a war movie this is pretty average. It’s got a good story, the production values are excellent, the acting couldn’t be better and the message on the honoring of valor is important. But it loses points for two reasons: Writer/director Todd Robinson ham-fistedly hammers home his courage-under-fire message at every opportunity, to the point where you want to stand up and yell, “Okay, we get it!” Further, all but the battle stuff is made-up, “based on a true story” stuff. A documentary would have been just as moving and more honest.
The second reason, and I fully support this as a Vietnam War veteran myself, is that little blame is laid on the institutions that got us into that messed-up war in the first place. Had they not, there would be no need for medals. Or heroism, for that matter. (116 min)