Mark Boorman’s “Ambush” features an intriguing premise, compelling ensemble, and brilliant and often immaculate filmmaking that almost qualifies as an above-average Vietnam-era nail-biter – were it not for the below-average performances contributed by both actors. whose names stand the longest in her credits block. Aaron Eckhart and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, usually complex and engaging even in small roles like this one, play characters who float lazily outside the main story while Connor Paolo, Gregory Sims, Jason Genao, and more do the heavy story-lifting that remains after their best-selling engagement. The stars paid their salaries.
Smarter and funnier, though, than one might expect from an outwardly familiar little story like this one, “Ambush” feels like a throwback – often in a good way – to the “exploitation films” produced by companies like Canon in the 1980s, when stories were related to war is the most popular commercially.
Paolo plays the corporal. Ackerman, the young, educated but inexperienced commander of a small outpost in Quang Tri province that becomes a flashpoint for conflict when Viet Cong forces appear – seemingly out of nowhere – to retrieve a file containing crucial data about their secret agents that was stolen by US Army spies. Although Capt. Mora (Sims) is initially sent to camp to intercept Link upon its acquisition, he succeeds in helping Ackerman hold off the wave of enemy combatants, but their joint commander General Drummond (Eckhart) orders them to follow their opponents into the woods, mapping out the tunnel network. Underground that allowed them to catch the American forces by surprise, and either re-acquire Link or destroy all evidence of his existence. To help them out, Drummond also sends Miller (Myers), a tracker with a dog who “thinks outside the box”.
Mora sends Ackerman underground with his team, a group of fresh-faced, dismayed engineers with little or no combat experience, while Miller searches for traces of Viet Cong on the surface. Determined to prove himself—to himself as much as his men or superiors—Ackerman takes the lead in measuring the labyrinth of tunnels while occasionally facing enemy forces that force him to make split-second life-or-death decisions. But when Drummond decides to limit the hunt, in the woods or underground, to an inflexible two-hour window, Ackerman races to complete his objectives, even as companion Maura Crawford (McBrandt) receives orders to make sure there is no trace of the mission. After the deadline – whether you pass or not.
Written by Boorman, Johnny Lozano, and Michael McClung, “Ambush” uses several “men on a mission” to explore subterranean warfare, a phenomenon that was not common before the Vietnam conflict, but has since been depicted in countless films about it, from “Platoon” to “Victims of War” to dozens of others. Narratively and thematically, this gives Borman the opportunity to explore multiple levels of military decision-making, from high-ranking individuals sending orders down the chain of command to grunts fighting for their lives in the trenches (or in this case, hand-dug tunnel systems), while Doing work on different backgrounds – bright and dark, stunning and intimate, tropical and muddy. What it also inadvertently does is showcase the division of labor in a movie between the name “stars” and the lesser-known character actors who work so hard to make them look good with little or no credit.
Paolo, who began his career playing the child version of the characters played by Kevin Bacon and Colin Farrell in “Mystic River” and “Alexander,” is unequivocally the star of this film – and he carries it with a great deal of wit and significantly more confidence, commanding Engineer concern men. Bormann takes Ackermann on a nuanced and emotional hero’s journey as he confronts the harrowing realities of battle and the grueling responsibilities of command, and Paulo confronts his ambitions, doubts, shortcomings, and growth with great substance. By comparison, Myers lends a noticeably softer edge than one might expect for a Miller hunter, but spends more time arguing with his canine companion than sparring with his teammates, while Eckhart operates exclusively via shortwave radio in a hideout he likely won’t come close to. From the rest of the film’s Colombian filming locations more than audiences will see.
Perhaps anticipating how little help he’ll get from the actors whose names are likely to help get the film funded, Boorman and co do a better-than-average job of covering the consequences of questionable character decisions in their story, though Mora’s omission in the film seems to be more An occasion with the file deserves a performance review or even a court-martial. But as combat-enthusiastic engineers, Genao, Jaime Lopez, Luke Stanton Eddy, Matt Martinez and the rest of the cast storm in, the up-and-comers more than hold their own as they walk through an endlessly disorienting tunnel system where in turn may bring them face-to-face with an opponent more willing to kill him than the other way around.
Boorman’s biggest credit to date has been producing Paul Schrader’s 2016 film Dog Eat Dog, but in the director’s chair, he deftly juggles a variety of landscapes and, most importantly, without sensationalism: whether he’s filming an all-out assault on Camp Ackermann or combat The mystery that erupts between him and his underground men creates vivid, meaningful images that feed the story and build real intensity. At the same time, in a story that Koda attempts to reconcile the absurdity of a single sacrifice with some particularly hollow platitudes about living forever as part of something larger, there’s no small irony in assembling a crew of (mostly) fresh faces who, rather. From carrying water faithfully to their marquee counterparts, they overshadow every turn.
But if it’s not a movie that rivals the quality or seriousness of Vietnam War standard-bearers like “The Deer Hunter” or “Full Metal Jacket,” “Ambush” ultimately offers a more believable adventure than the cartoonish style of its imitative competitors (then or since). then) – and more than a bunch of real thrills.
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