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Rob Edelman: Misrepresenting History

I recently offered commentary on THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, the Robert Redford film which spotlights various now-aging political activists of the late 1960s and 70s. To be sure, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is dramatically flawed, but at least it attempts to get at certain truths regarding the American counterculture of the era.

Well, upon further thought, I realize that, among recent American movies, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is the exception regarding the manner in which the anti-Vietnam war movement has been presented onscreen. I can cite a number of examples of how this is so, but I will mention just one because it, like THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, is a 2013 release.

This film is titled LOVE AND HONOR and it is set in 1969, just prior to the Neal Armstrong moon landing. Liam Hemsworth and Austin Stowell, two young actors who are of the “hunk” variety, play American GIs fighting in Vietnam. One of them receives a Dear John letter from his girlfriend back in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is understandably distraught, and he is joined by his pal as he goes AWOL and heads home to win her back.

Given its subject and characters, and the time in which it is set, LOVE AND HONOR is a potentially provocative film. It might have offered insight and truth in its attempt to capture a mood and a time in American history. But its makers get it all wrong. LOVE AND HONOR brazenly wallows in rose-colored cliché. Its young “heroes” are depicted as proud patriots who have not been led astray in a war that is being mismanaged. Their “problems” are of the romantic variety. They are not at all political. In other words, these characters are fantasy versions of the present-day Afghanistan or Iraqi war veterans who populate all those touchy-feely television ads.

But the fact is that, in the real world, quite a few Vietnam veterans came out against the war. They were politicized by the folly that was Vietnam and, these days, this fact seems to be too often conveniently forgotten.

Remember Ron Kovic? You may recall that Kovic is a real-life Vietnam veteran who started out as a gung-ho Marine recruit who went off to fight in Southeast Asia. He came home paralyzed from the chest down, and eventually evolved into a passionate anti-war activist. Kovic’s memoir, titled BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, was of course made into a 1989 movie starring Tom Cruise and directed by Oliver Stone. Stone was himself a Vietnam veteran. Three years before filming BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, he made the Oscar-winning PLATOON, which to my mind is the definitive Vietnam war movie.

But PLATOON and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY are now decades old. Time has passed-- enough time for filmmakers to make and sell movies which soften the Vietnam war or which collectively stereotype all American GIs fighting in Vietnam as flag-waving patriots who are untouched by the lunacy of that particular war.

Meanwhile, those in the anti-war movement are depicted as irresponsible, as flakes and hypocrites whose anti-war sentiments are somehow unAmerican-- which is precisely what you will find in LOVE AND HONOR.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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