Picks and Pans Review: Vietnam War Story

updated 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sat., Aug. 29, 9 p.m. ET)

B+

There are many reasons—some better than others—to suddenly start making movies and TV shows about Vietnam. This HBO show has one of the better reasons behind it. Unlike Platoon and CBS' upcoming series Tour of Duty, this production is not just another excuse, like war itself, to fire tons of guns and bombs. Nor does it try in one glib speech at the end to explain the war or crassly exploit sympathy for the men who fought it. Vietnam War Story tries, simply, to present the human drama of this war. The show isn't quite as sterling as its motives. A few scenes suffer from a lack of subtlety. A soldier gets off a chopper and stares at body bags carrying the dead men he's replacing; this is war. A wounded man defensively justifies his heroism: "I didn't do it for the President.... I did it for my buddies." A desk jockey asks a grunt what war is really like, and the grunt has him look down the barrel of a gun and "imagine somebody else's finger on that trigger." Despite those overdramatic moments, the show still does give us three gripping stories. All are short—a half hour long—and all are inspired by veterans' memories. In the first, some young men cool off in a bar and brothel. One of them decides to go AWOL, but then has to hide through the night when the Viet-cong takes over the town. In the next, a tough loner steps on a mine that will go off if he moves, so he stands there for hours, waiting for someone to come and defuse it. In the last tale, a young man who's brave and optimistic in the face of any adversity, including a hospital ward, keeps his comrades' spirits up. The show doesn't try to tell the whole story of the war, only a few stories from it. At that it succeeds.

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