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Film / Uncommon Valor

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Uncommon Valor is a 1983 war film directed by Ted Kotcheff, starring Gene Hackman, Randall "Tex" Cobb, Robert Stack, Reb Brown (yes that Reb Brown), and a post-The Outsiders, pre-Dirty Dancing Patrick Swayze.

It is The '80s, and Col. Jason Rhodes (Hackman), a Korean war veteran, is haunted by the loss of his son, Frank, who has been Missing In Action since 1972. After a particularly disturbing nightmare, he decided to take action. He petitions the government and all of his military contacts to no avail, eventually being forcibly retired for being a nuisance. What's a Papa Wolf to do? Team up with the father of another MIA, now an oil magnate (Stack) for finances and recruit your son's former squadmates, drill them into a precise military unit with the help of a young Marine Kevin Scott (Swayze), and send them back to the war they've been trying to escape for the last 10 years.

The second half of the film chronicles their arrival in Thailand, scuffles with the CIA (who don't want an armed incursion setting off the delicate political situation), and run-ins with corrupt soldiers, arms dealers, and the final assault on the POW camp in Laos.

Uncommon Valor came out before Rambo: First Blood Part II, which dealt with the same issue. Uncommon Valor was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who previously made the original First Blood.

Has nothing to do with the Jedi Mind Tricks song, though both the song and the movie deal with the Vietnam War.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Johnson and Charts, though Charts fits the hotshot role better.
  • Action Girl: Lai Fun, and to a lesser extent, her sister.
  • Audit Threat: Used on MacGregor. Failed epically.
  • Badass Crew: Everyone in the team, save Kevin, is a veteran soldier who survived Vietnam. They are not anyone's pushovers.
  • Berserk Button: Go on. Tell Sailor he's got no respect for himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Rhodes's son died of illness several years before in the very camp they found. He is too late to save his son but finds MacGregor's son and three others for whom the war is now over. Also, one member of the team dies for every POW they rescue.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Sailor can get rowdy and party; he also dances, and he can kick anyone's ass as the Big Guy of the team.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: The team started out with AR-15s and other modern weapons, which were promptly confiscated by local authorities upon arrival in SE Asia, thanks to the CIA. The solution? Find a shady black marketeer who's sitting on a pile of WWII-era M1 Garands, M1918 BARs, and Tommy Guns, and is perfectly happy to give these old American guns back to the Americans, for the right price.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Inverted, as it's the veteran Sailor who calls out the much younger Scott. Scott is confident and leaps at the chance to show off his Kung Fu, but it doesn't go well for him.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Charts hits on anything that moves. He even tries to sneak up and, erm, snuggle with Action Girl Lai Fun. It doesn't go well.
  • Chainsaw Good: Sailor manages to find a chainsaw on their practice run through the mock-up village. He takes out a cardboard cut-out guard with it.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Sailor's hand grenade, used by him in a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: In the time in between the Vietnam War and the film's current day, Sailor has been on such a hard-core constant intake of drugs that he admits to Rhodes he spends all of his time hallucinating and we first meet him dancing ballet (well, as well as someone built like Randall "Tex" Cobb could do it) inside of a police interrogation room. He pulls himself together once it's explained why Rhodes is doing this, but only to a given value of together (he still dances "ballet" in the team's training grounds).
    "Man, I'm so far beyond that shit, man... I can pull energy from the AIR. I can talk to polar bears, I converse with paramecium, man, I FUCKED NUCLEAR WASTE."
  • Dead All Along: Frank Rhodes, who died of illness shortly after the failed rescue operation in the opening.
  • Deadpan Snarker: During one of the exercises, the team must make it through the forest to the tower, without being tagged by Wilkes. Wilkes not only systematically takes them apart, using traps, positioning, and tactics, but hangs a customised sign on each of them to make them look stupid. Can you be a snarker without speaking?
  • Description Porn: Wilkes explains how to shiv someone quietly:
    "You come in low under his line of sight. You leap... taking him down, placing your hand over his nose, pulling his face away from you. At the base of his skull, to the right of the spine, into what the Chinese call the Wind Gate. You insert, scramble the brains. What you have is instant rag doll."
  • Desolation Shot: The team travels through the remains of a village whose every inhabitant was killed by mustard gas.
  • Dispense with the Pleasantries: At the team's first dinner together in camp, Rhodes tells Scott to dispense with military courtesy since it isn't practical where they're going.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Scott tries to be this early in the veteran's re-training. It doesn't work, as the men see him as The Neidermeyer, when the situation is actually that his father was a pilot shot down in Vietnam, and this is Kevin's way of coming to terms with his loss.
  • Hellish Copter:
    • In the opening, one of the helicopters is blown up by a rocket.
    • Charts's helicopter gets shot down by a Laotian patrol boat, however, he survived the crash.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Wilkes killed a civilian by accident in a tunnel and was stuck in there for hours. This led to his claustrophobia and disconnection from life.
    • Scott after Blaster is killed and Chart's helicopter is shot down. It sends him berserk and screaming out of cover charging a gunboat by himself to save Charts.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Rhodes's son Frank was captured after stopping to retrieve MacGregor's son and carrying the injured man to the helicopter.
    • Blaster dies manually detonating the explosives that take out the bridge after they misfire.
    • Sailor blows himself up with his grenade after being fatally shot, taking out a tower and a whole bunch of enemy soldiers.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: "Wilkes, we need transportation." "Buy it, or borrow it?" "Steal the fucker!"
  • The Korean War/The Vietnam War: Rhodes and Macgregor are veterans of the former, and the rest of the team are veterans of the latter.
  • Mad Bomber: Blaster. Oh my. At one point he even starts cackling insanely when it seems he'll surpass his record of a break or "series of planned explosions".
  • The Mountains of Illinois: The team is supposed to be training in Galveston, Texas, with mountains in the background. Galveston is on an island just off the Texas coast and is either cities, beaches, or wetlands. No mountains for hundreds of miles.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Robert Stack's character, MacGregor, is a millionaire oil tycoon from Texas who bankrolls the operation to retrieve the POWs. He is based on Ross Perot, a real-life millionaire oil tycoon from Texas who in the early 1980s financed private investigations into possible American prisoners still being held in Vietnam.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Pretty much every higher-up that comes into contact with Rhodes. He is forced into retirement because he continues to pester the government about finding his son, and the team has to make do with World War II-era equipment because the CIA tips off the Vietnamese government about the mission because they don't want the team to cause political trouble (although the CIA agent that informs them of this is sympathetic enough to allow the team to go and plead to them to go home, which allows them to go and purchase said weapons and continue the mission anyway).
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Jiang mentions that his sons were killed by Laotian Red Guards in an opium run.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Putting a hat and a poncho over Randall "Tex" Cobb doesn't disguise that it's Randall "Tex" Cobb travelling through Laos.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Sailor gets three in a row:
    • "Now, asshole. RIGHT! NOW!"
    • "Boy... you just bought the whole can of WHOOP-ASS!" *cue Foe-Tossing Charge*
    • *after being thrown** Boy, usin' that Oriental martial bullshit on me is gonna get REAL expensive." *cue stomping*
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Rhodes's recruitment of the scattered veterans. Subverted slightly in that they initially all turn him down bar Blaster and Sailor (who they had to dig out of prison), but all show up when the plane is ready to leave.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Blaster, while a Mad Bomber in war, was a slacker in peacetime who never cared about anything, and spent his time racing BMXs and goofing around. When the bombs on the bridge failed to detonate, he sacrificed himself to make sure his part of the plan went through.
    • Sailor, who got to the helicopter that left Frank behind, and had to be physically restrained from going back for Frank, got to buy time for Rhodes to get back to the helicopter with a POW, thus bookending the film.
  • Retired Badass: All of the team members, save for Scott.
  • Say My Name:
    • Sailor screams "Frank!" as he's left behind in the opening.
    • Scott screams "Sailor!" as Sailor blows himself up.
  • Screaming Warrior/Shouting Shooter: Surprisingly enough, averted with Blaster, considering who played him.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Rhodes is told by every member of the military he talks to that he should give up. He, at one point, declared that'd he'd go in there with a pocketknife if he had to.
    • MacGregor, even in his non-combatant role, is told that there were serious threats against his company if he went through with the mission, such as IRS audits. His response? "Fuck you."
  • Security Blanket: Sailor's grenade. "Well, Sailor figures if life gets too shitty, he'd just pull the pin, and see what's next."
    • Played completely serious with one of the POWs: when Sailor breaks down the door to take him home, the POW, who's so weak he can barely lift his head to speak, refuses to leave because he can't leave "The garden". Sailor expediates matters by reassuring him "Don't worry. We'll take the garden with us."
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • All of the main characters to some extent, but Wilkes is the best example of the trope, burnt out to the point where he spent days staring at the walls, making disturbing industrial art, and can't sleep through the night indoors. Admittedly, he was a tunnel rat and what made him this way? Brr.
    • Colonel Rhodes tries to console him, regaling his own horror story of his experiences in the Korean War, looking into the eyes of corpses frozen from the cold, telling him he eventually got over it by making friends with them in his mind.
  • Take It to the Bridge: Blaster's final confrontation with a group of enemies on a bridge loaded with explosives.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Scott's reaction to the first enemy soldier he kills during the battle at the Laotian border.
  • Truth in Television: in the early 80s ex-Green Beret Colonel Bo Gritz did indeed organise a private rescue mission to try to recover American soldiers suspected of being held prisoner in Vietnam.
    • the team are perhaps the only soldiers in the history of film to actually take the time to zero their weapons (adjust the sights to suit the individual firer) to improve their accuracy.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee / Impossible Mission Collapse: The team plans the raid to perfection (with the capacity to pull it off in a minute and a half of a maximum of three that Rhodes thinks they have before they are swamped with enemy reinforcements), it was supposed to be at night, and was supposed to be a blitzkrieg that would have them all get out of there unharmed alongside the soldiers. Everything goes to hell the moment they put boots on Vietnamese ground because of the CIA, and although the plan works even with improvisation and old weapons... well, look up on Bittersweet Ending for details.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Deconstructed with Scott, whose martial arts skills do him little good against the much larger Sailor who tanks most of his blows before picking Scott up and tossing him down for the count.
  • What Are You in For?: When Rhodes goes to find Sailor, he's in prison. Well, IN prison, but not under arrest: he "blow-torched a local kingpin biker" so the local cops are holding him in Witness Protection for his own good.
  • Where's the Kaboom?: The explosives planted to destroy the bridge in order to cut off enemy reinforcements misfire, forcing Blaster to make a Heroic Sacrifice to manually detonate them.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: played straight with the claustrophobic former tunnel rat Wilkes being forced by circumstance to explore a drain into the POW camp.
  • Wretched Hive: The Blue Parrot bar, complete with a slimy maitre d, patrons firing guns into the ceiling to the music, the menus being lists of weaponry, and the basement being a huge warehouse of guns.