Bullet Points: Platoon Leader
In our continuing effort to write about legendary action star Michael Dudikoff as much as possible, I fished out my old copy of Platoon Leader and sat back to reminisce of my own times in war. My experiences were much different than the soldiers who fought against “Charlie”, but if there is one thing that I can completely understand, it is the feeling that every civilian is a potential enemy. That shit can really f*ck with your mind. It’s no surprise that given the horrors and atrocities during the Vietnam War that we’ll probably never see a film that paints it in a gentler light. It is as Martin Sheen said, “war is hell”.
The Gist: A young West Point graduate arrives in Vietnam and takes over command of a platoon defending a small village surrounded by the relentless attack of the Viet Cong.
The Cast: Michael Dudikoff plays Lt. Jeff Knight, a young, somewhat brash officer recently assigned to a firebase protecting a Vietnamese village. In real life, young officers lasted about as long in Vietnam as a Kardashian marriage. Dudikoff goes from greenhorn rookie to grizzled vet after skirmishes with the VC fighters puts him in the hospital with life-threatening wounds. Some men are much harder to impress, apparently, because it is only after the LT returns that his men finally begin to listen to him. The Dud gives one of his better performances, in my opinion, but SGT McNamara carries most of the emotional weight as the NCO in charge. We never get a true emotional attachment to the village as most of it is seen as a uselessly defended position that is taken by the troops and coveted by the Viet Cong.
I was stunned to find that Dudikoff doesn’t use a sword in this movie.
The Villain: Anytime a Vietnam War movie is told from the perspective of the American forces than the villains of the story are going to be either the North Vietnamese Army or the Viet Cong. In this case it is the Viet Cong who continually attacks the firebase and while they are mostly nameless, faceless enemies who attack at night and raid the village to kill innocents, this movie stays away from the politics of the war as much as possible. That might be assuring to you people who don’t want to see another Oliver Stone war film so what we’re left with here is the age-old good (USA) vs. bad (VC) formula.
Charlie is all around, man.
The Action: The fighting in the movie is definitely the strongest part of it. The battles are nothing new; a couple of ambushes from the VC, an attack on the American-held base, but the film gives a strong glimpse into not only the fighting but also the effect it has taken on the soldiers themselves. The movie also doesn’t lack in the helicopter department. It seems like every other scene has one either coming or going but there are no real significant scenes with the choppers. Don’t expect any to be blown to smithereens.
One thing I loved about this film is that the star isn’t invincible.
Take it Home:
- Original Title: It was originally going to be titled “Nam”, but it was changed due to the popularity of Platoon.
- There’s always room for Chuck: This is the only Aaron Norris film to not star Chuck Norris.
- Favorite quote: “Death is the ultimate alarm clock man! It wakes you up.”
- The score: The music felt like it would fit much more in line with a film like The Delta Force and not something this serious.
- Happy Ending: There are no happy endings in Vietnam War films.
The Verdict: The major flaw of the film is how closely it resembles Platoon without being as good as Platoon. It doesn’t touch it in any of the above categories but it is still a very watchable film that should appeal to war movie buffs and action fanatics alike. I spent a lot of time with my Platoon Leader VHS when I was young and make it a point to re-watch it every couple of years.