War is reduced to a small group of men humping their way through a spiritual wasteland of corrupted dreams and broken hopes. Director Patrick Duncan’s POV technique shrinks the world into a series of medium close-ups, allowing the men to dominate the film with obtuse words and weary expressions, yet underscore the drama with existential dread were the enemy haunt their jungle like demons captured on undeveloped film.
The setup is fairly simple: a two-man motion picture crew is assigned to accompany a five man long range patrol on a reconnaissance mission, in order to chronicle the practical field techniques, to be studied for training purposes. The leader is OD, a hulking black man who leads by example, a man who is tough and deadly in the field…but fair. Though the characters tend towards cliché; the jokester (and short-timer), the hillbilly, the killer, and the pretty boy, each becomes an individual whose roots run deep towards home through the muck of Vietnam. They transcend the boundaries of the frame and become believable and real people. The acting is first rate and often carries the illusion of immediacy and improvisation while remaining consistent.
The film depicts the boring and mundane routine of combat, living in the gulf of silence between the teeth chattering rumble of combat. Details like the soldiers powdering their feet and drying their socks, duct taping equipment so it doesn’t rattle, or discarding a pack of cigarettes because menthol carries in the wind for a quarter mile make the story credible. The bulk of the story concerns these details as they discover NVA booby traps or an enemy encampment, or setting up a perimeter for sleep. The action happens quickly and is over in a few seconds and renders the consequences in gut wrenching detail. Watching OD remove dog tags, duct tape one set between clenched teeth, and snap his comrade up inside a grimy body bag is brutal: each snap is like a gunshot that kills a part of the soul.
84 CHARLIE MOPIC is a very good little war film whose goal is not to export some huge and foreboding Truth about war…but to strip away the veneer of John Wayne heroism and reveal a wasteland where men are left killing men...just like themselves.
Final Grade: (B+)