I remember when Bat 21 first hit the big screen in 1988. After loving the previous Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Hamburger Hill, I was greatly anticipating this particular film. Unfortunately, the film never reached my expectations, but that is not to say that it is a bad picture. On the contrary, it is a decent, watchable film with a few memorable moments. However, it never really hits the mark like you feel it should.
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Bat 21 is the telling of the actual events of Iceal Hambleton, a Lt. Col. who was shot down over occupied territory in Vietnam. The Lt. Col. was the lone survivor of the crash and finds himself running and hiding for his life after realizing he is smack dab in the middle of NVA military activity. Hambleton is an essential part of the military due to his extensive knowledge of missile weaponry and therefore is not considered expendable by any means.
Searching for Hambleton is Captain Bartholomew Clark, a pilot known for having no fear. His countless runs into NVA territory to make contact with Hambleton are doubly dangerous because the NVA can hear everything being said over the radio. Hambleton comes up with a code that Clark must break in order for the rescue team to be able to rendevous with the lost Colonel. Along the way the Colonel discovers more important military information that he relays to Clark until eventually a rescue attempt is made.
This entire movie is a two character piece. The first of course is Lt. Col. Hambleton who is played by Gene Hackman. The role of Captain Clark is played by Danny Glover. Now first off, their interaction with each other is believable from the start and you can understand why Clark keeps subjecting himself to danger just to keep an "eye" on the Colonel. Both actors play off of each other and it hits the mark. Where I feel there is something missing is with Hambleton's reactions to the situation he was in. Think about this for just a minute. You are stuck in a foreign country, surrounded by hundreds of enemy soldiers all packing machine guns and grenades, and you are left alone with nothing but a handgun and a radio. I don't know about you but I would be looking for a new pair of underwear. In Bat 21, you never get the feeling that the Colonel is that frightened of his situation. Maybe it's because Hackman is such a cool, calm actor who can be fearless when he needs to be. Maybe he's a victim of his own talent in this particular case. Nonetheless, you never really feel the horror that the Colonel was really going through.
Danny Glover playing the captain does a more than credible job. You can sense his loyalty to his fallen comrade, even when you might not be sure why he is risking so much of himself for someone he never met. All around well done job by Glover. The rest of the cast of minor parts at best, with one having the most memorable scene of the movie. I don't want to ruin it for anyone but it simply is the one scene that shows just how horrible this war was. An exchange between Hackman and a young Vietnamese child also will catch your eye, although not quite as much as the aforementioned scene.
Overall, a decent movie with credible acting, just nothing spectacular. Surprisingly little gore for a movie about Vietnam. Not so much about the mass hysteria of war as one man's encounter. Certainly on a more personal level than most other war films in terms of its characters. 3 out of 5 stars.