World War II and the Vietnam War were, as everyone agrees, very different - in the way they were fought and in the sense of national pride, or lack thereof, that each war prompted among the American people.
But here are a couple of films that treat both wars the same - as times of national shame.Both are fictional films, of course, both shift tone dramatically about halfway through and both are seriously flawed - one's just more flawed than the other.
- "COME SEE THE PARADISE" is a film that simply tries too hard to do too much. What success it has comes from an inherent sense of noble intentions as well as the strength of its excellent cast.
The film begins in the late '30s, with Dennis Quaid, as a "sweat-shop lawyer" - a knowledgable union organizer with no law degree - reluctantly becoming involved when a New York projectionists union sets fire to a local theater. He burns his hands trying to stop the fire and finds himself on the run.
After a stopover to get into a fight with his brother in Chicago, Quaid flees to Los Angeles and gets a job in Little Tokyo running the projector in a small theater that shows Japanese movies. There, he meets and falls in love with the theater manager's daughter (Tamlyn Tomita).
Naturally, the family disapproves, but they run off and get married anyway, thus alienating Tomita from her loved ones. Quaid and Tomita migrate to Seattle, have a daughter and Quaid reluctantly, again, gets involved in a union fight. Tomita can't take the strife and heads back home with their young daughter.
She arrives just in time - her family, friends and neighbors are being herded by federal agents into internment camps.
This is about midway into the film, and the rest of the picture has to do with the family's struggles to survive with dignity in the camps, while Quaid is drafted and frequently goes AWOL to visit his wife and daughter.
That's the basic plot, told in flashbacks as Tomita answers questions from her daughter about how she and Quaid met. Oddly, the story takes Quaid's point of view in the telling, and some of the incidents seem like things the girl should remember herself.
But writer-director Alan Parker, who similarly felt the need to tell a racially charged story from a white point of view in "Mississippi Burning," stumbles more seriously in his attempts to blend the three major story elements: Is this about union-busting, interracial marriage or the stateside internment camps of the early '40s?
The union element just gets in the way, especially when it becomes clear that Quaid's "sweat-shop" legal training isn't going to be used in any way. I kept thinking he would become part of the process that eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court finding the camps unconstitutional, but instead the union material is simply cumbersome. And the love story, while sweet and pleasant, seems contrived in this setting.
What really gives the film its strength is the second half, as the internment camp plot takes over, bolstered by excellent performances from the entire Japanese cast, which makes up for Parker's more clunky writing, including some terribly flowery dialogue. And Tomita is a real find, a sensitive actress we can hope to see more of in the future.
On the whole, "Come See the Paradise," rated R for profanity (which is overdone and seems anachronistic in this context), violence, sex and nudity, is worth seeing but should have been better.
- "FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER" is yet another Vietnam film, this time attempting to shape a story that has Americans as winners rather than losers.
The first half is a rousing, John Wayne-style male-bonding epic, with Danny Glover commanding Navy pilots on an aircraft carrier who get to drop bombs on unimportant targets toward the end of the war, occasionally losing buddies to Viet Cong anti-aircraft guns. (There's even a brief shore-leave romance with war widow Rosanna Arquette.)
The focus is on Brad Johnson (the young, naive firefighting pilot in "Always") as a disillusioned pilot reluctantly teamed with Willem Dafoe, who comes aboard with a shady past and a reputation for being rather wild-eyed.
Then, about halfway through the film, there is a dramatic shift in tone as Johnson and Dafoe cook up a scheme to bomb Hanoi - unbeknownst to their commanding officer, of course. What follows is an overwrought series of events that evolve from this illegal vigilante action, all of which seem, to say the least, unlikely. The film culminates with a hurrah as President Richard M. Nixon orders unrestricted bombing of Hanoi.
This is a dubious idea for fiction at any time, but perhaps especially right now.
The film might be more palatable in the hands of a more subtle filmmaker, but John Milius, who gave us the same strident tone in "Red Dawn" and "Farewell to the King," hammers his message home between action scenes that seem more like "Star Wars" than "Top Gun." It must be said, however, that those battle sequences, and the scenes aboard the carrier, are visually stunning.
One question, once more in the area of anachronisms - did the Navy have videocassette tape players instead of film projectors in 1972?
"Flight of the Intruder" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, vulgarity and implied sex.