Sunday, November 5, 2017

#2,455. The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Starring: Wings Hauser, R. Lee Ermey, Robert Arevalo

Tag line: "Against all odds they went to hell and back"

Trivia: Writer William Nagle was an Australian S.A.S. soldier who served in Vietnam between 1965 and 1969

After directing some kick-ass exploitation films in the ‘80s (Turkey Shoot, BMX Bandits, Dead End Drive-In), Brian Trenchard-Smith closed out the decade with 1989’s The Siege of Firebase Gloria, a straightforward war flick that is as engaging as any movie he’s ever made.

The Tet Offensive is underway, and the U.S. Army’s upper echelon has ordered Sgt. Maj. Hafner (R. Lee Ermey) to lead his men to Firebase Gloria, an outpost that's in danger of falling into enemy hands. 

After wrestling control of the firebase away from its drug-addicted commanding officer (John Calvin), Hafner, with the help of his subordinate, Cpl. Di Nardo (Wings Hauser) and the firebase’s 1st Sgt. Jones (Albert Popwell), prepares for an all-out attack by the Viet Cong, which is gathering en masse in the nearby forest. 

Though his forces outnumber the Americans by five to one, the Viet Cong commander, Cao Van (Robert Arevalo), remains cautious, telling his troops that they must take Firebase Gloria before the U.S. can send in reinforcements. 

As difficult as their task may seem, Hafner and his men vow to protect the firebase for as long as they can, knowing full well that doing so may ultimately cost them their lives. 

Two years after his career-defining role as the Marine drill sergeant in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey plays what is essentially the lead in The Siege of Firebase Gloria, and even doubles as the movie’s narrator. A former Marine himself as well as a veteran of the Vietnam War, Ermey delivers a strong, surprisingly heartfelt performance as the commander who knows the odds are stacked against him (according to Trenchard-Smith, Ermey also helped re-write portions of the script, to make them more realistic). 

Wings Hauser is equally good as the unpredictable Di Nardo, and Robert Arevalo, who plays the enemy commander, even manages to get a few laughs along the way (when his artillery unit fails to prevent a U.S. helicopter from landing and taking off again, a frustrated Cao Van tells his subordinate that their mortar squad “couldn’t hit my old grandmother in the ass from two paces”). 

Along with the fine performances turned in by its cast, The Siege of Firebase Gloria features some intense battle scenes, and the opening sequence - in which Hafner and his men stumble upon a Vietnamese village that’s been massacred by the enemy - gets the film off to a grim start. But it’s the siege itself, filling the movie's entire second half, that builds the tension to an almost unbearable level. 

While it doesn’t shy away from offering an opinion or two about the conflict in Vietnam (Sgt. Maj. Hafner is especially critical of the Army’s top brass, who seem slow to act on the information provided by men in the field), The Siege of Firebase Gloria isn’t the kind of film that examines the effect that war has on the individual (a la Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter), nor does it question America’s involvement in Vietnam (as Oliver Stone did in both Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July). It is, from start to finish, a straight-up war movie, filled with action and drama, and on that level it is a resounding success.

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