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Bat 21 Reviews

A welcome change from RAMBO-style Vietnam films, BAT 21 concentrates on developing its American characters and puts a complicated face on the enemy. Based on a true story, the film stars Gene Hackman as Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, a military strategist who has spent his entire career in the air or behind a desk. Acting on reports that a major North Vietnamese offensive is being mobilized, Hambleton goes up in a bomber to take a look, but the plane is hit over enemy territory and Hambleton is the only survivor. Alone in the jungle, with no infantry training and only a minimum of survival gear, he waits for the military to pick him up. A spotter pilot, Capt. Clark (Danny Glover), code-named "Birddog," is dispatched to locate Hambleton, "Bat 21," for a helicopter rescue. Although the two men are able to communicate by radio, the area is still too hot for Hambleton to be picked up immediately, and he spends the night in the jungle, buoyed by the pilot's radioed pep talks (monitored by the enemy). Witnessing war from ground level for the first time, Hambleton is horrified by the effects of his own strategies; he must even kill a man for the first time before his ordeal ends. With time running out before a scheduled US air strike and after one rescue attempt fails tragically, the rescue mission is called off. Clark, obsessed with rescuing Hambleton, defies orders and steals a helicopter he barely knows how to fly in one last attempt to save him. Directed by Peter Markle with an eye for military detail, BAT 21 manages to be compelling without extended battle scenes. The film tends to belabor its points and is overly melodramatic, but its refusal to takes sides allows it to concentrate on the humanity of the combatants. Moreover, BAT 21 works well as a traditional male adventure story. Hackman turns in his usual solid performance, and Glover is strong as the pilot who develops a deep empathy for the officer, although the device of having the men interact almost entirely by radio limits development of their relationship. The film was shot in Malaysia.