Picks and Pans Review: The Hanoi Hilton

updated 04/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A kind of psychological Rambo, this film seems devoted to the proposition that we won the Vietnam war because many of our POWs survived. In fact this is a sad exploitation of those POWs, many of whom are credited as advisers to the film, appropriating fictionalized versions of their experience for a political purpose. There have been many powerful POW films in the past: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Stalag 17, King Rat, The Rack. They succeeded because a POW camp is an obvious arena in which to study the character of men—both captives and captors. When this film, directed and written by Lionel (TV's Sadat) Chetwynd, sticks to the story of the individual Americans in the camp, it is engrossing. The actors playing those prisoners, including Michael Moriarity, Jeffrey Jones, Stephen Davies, Lawrence Pressman and Paul Le Mat, are consistently moving. Chetwynd compromises their performances, however, by preaching at every opportunity. Even Jane Fonda's hardest critics would cringe at the doltish behavior of the actress character (played by Gloria Carlin) who visits the Hanoi prison camp to sweet-talk the POWs into confessing guilt. The camp commander (Filipino-American actor Aki Aleong) is a one-dimensional brute, as is a Cuban officer (Michael Russo) who drops in to flaunt his sadistic impulses. Chetwynd undercuts himself too. The liberation of the prisoners, potentially a most moving scene, is just another excuse for flag-waving. Most offensive is the fact that he misuses the real POWs his film is about. These, surely, are men who have been misused enough for one lifetime. (R)

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