Picks and Pans Review: In Love and War
updated 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
Not since Friendly Fire have I seen a movie that so effectively portrays the tragic pain and folly of Vietnam—and does so without a single battle scene. In a story based on fact, James Woods, an Oscar nominee for Salvador, plays Navy pilot Jim Stockdale, who in 1964 flew a mission off the coast of Vietnam to defend a U.S. ship that supposedly was being attacked—an incident that led to the Gulf of Tonkin congressional resolution and to America's full commitment to the war. But Stockdale knew the truth about that night: There was no attack, only a jittery radar operator who thought he saw the North Vietnamese. The next year Stockdale was shot down and imprisoned in Hanoi, where the Vietnamese commander—played by Dr. Haing S. (The Killing Fields) Ngor—spent eight years torturing him, trying to find out what he knew about Tonkin. Though Stockdale seemed to disapprove of the way the war started, he still endured tremendous pain and even slashed his wrists rather than reveal the truth. He also set up secret communication with prisoners and, in coded letters, passed on news of torture to his wife (Jane Alexander). She organized POW wives and pressured Washington into exposing North Vietnamese cruelty to its prisoners. A spectacular story superbly told.