This week’s pick is the Vietnam MIA rescue film Uncommon Valor (1983) directed by Ted Kotcheff (Rambo: First Blood). It stars Gene Hackman, Fred Ward, Patrick Swayze, Reb Brown, Tim Thomerson, Robert Stack and Randall “Tex” Cobb.
Uncommon Valor touches on the subject of American servicemen who had been designated POW/MIA since the end of American involvement in The Vietnam War. Gene Hackman stars as Col. Jason Rhodes, a retired Marine and Korean War veteran who believes his son has been a POW for over ten years in a Laos prison camp.
Rhodes has spent years combing Southeast Asia finding clues that lead him to believe Frank is still alive. Rhodes even enlists the help of the U.S. State Department who offer little or no help.
Having no one else to turn to, Rhodes enlists the help of members of his son’s former U.S. Army LRRP recon platoon. Rhodes first recruit is Wilkes (Fred Ward) a tunnel rat who suffers from PTSD and eventually decides that he too needs to go in order to free himself from his own personal demons. The second is “Blaster” (Reb Brown) a demolitions expert.
The third member is “Sailor” (Randall Cobb) a troubled vet who is in constant trouble with the law and hangs a live grenade around his neck just for kicks. All three men share a strong bond of brotherhood and camaraderie with Frank and feel that it’s their duty to bring back whoever was left behind.
The last three additions to the team are two former helicopter aces Charts (Tim Thomerson), Johnson (Harold Sylvester) and Kevin Scott (Patrick Swayze) a dishonorably discharged Marine whose father is also listed as MIA.
Once the team is assembled, Rhodes and his squad are funded by a Texas oil businessman named McGregor (Robert Stack) (a nod to former presidential candidate Ross Perot who once put up his own money for a similar operation). The men train in a mock POW camp outside of Galveston, Texas in order to re-train as the soldiers they once were.
At the same time, the CIA has been investigating Rhode’s operation and they begin to threaten McGregor and his business. McGregor refuses to back down because his son is also listed MIA, and was in the same unit as Rhode’s son. Once the men complete their training, they embark for Bangkok, Thailand where they encounter more interference as the CIA confiscate their weapons and force them to abandon the notion of rescuing POWs.
Rhodes turns to a deposed drug runner named Jiang (Kwan Hi Lim) who helps the team acquire out of date, yet effective, World War II weapons. Jiang and his two daughters accompany Rhodes and the men on their mission. The remainder of the film is filled with tough bravado, decent action sequences, and our heroes find MIAs still held by their cruel Vietnamese captors.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when our heroes acquire their new weapons from a French gun runner/nightclub owner. He begins showing Rhodes a menu of weapons based on price. The last page shows Chinese and Soviet vehicles. The Frenchman replies, “These dishes require twenty four hour notice.”
Rhodes offers him a small sum of money the team received from McGregor as a token of his appreciation. The men use the money to purchase the assortment of Tommy guns, M-1 Garands, a Browning Automatic Rifle and other weapons.
Unlike First Blood, which was a huge hit for Kotcheff, Uncommon Valor didn’t do as well at the box office. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film two thumbs down criticizing the film from its plot, the action, and the acting.
Hackman, Cobb, Thomerson, and Ward are fantastic in the film and really show their acting chops. Uncommon Valor gained huge status as a cult war film among early videocassette renters the world over and continues to show up on late night TV on stations like Cinemax and HBO.
Uncommon Valor is available on DVD through Paramount Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.