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Uncommon Valor is a 1983 American action war film directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Gene Hackman, Fred Ward, Reb Brown, Robert Stack and Patrick Swayze. It follows a former U.S. Marine (Hackman) officer who puts together a rag-tag team to rescue his son, who he believes is among those still held in Laos after the Vietnam War.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ted Kotcheff|
|Produced by||David Brown|
|Screenplay by||Joe Gayton|
|Story by||Wings Hauser|
|Music by||James Horner|
|Cinematography||Stephen H. Burum|
|Edited by||Mark Melnick|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$30,503,151 (US)|
Taking place in the early 1980s and set in the context of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue, retired Marine Colonel Jason Rhodes (Gene Hackman) is obsessed with finding his son Frank, an Army Lieutenant listed as "missing in action" (MIA) since 1972. After 10 years of searching Southeast Asia and turning up several leads, Rhodes believes that Frank is still alive and being kept in Laos as a prisoner of war.
After petitioning the United States government for help, but receiving none, Colonel Rhodes brings together a disparate group of Vietnam War veterans, including some who were a part of Frank's platoon: Wilkes (Fred Ward), a "tunnel rat" who suffers from PTSD; "Blaster", a demolitions expert (Reb Brown); and "Sailor", a crazed, yet loyal machine gunner (Randall Cobb). Additionally, two helicopter pilot acquaintances of Rhodes, Distinguished Flying Cross recipient Johnson (Harold Sylvester) and Charts (Tim Thomerson), join the group. A young, former Force Recon Marine Kevin Scott (Patrick Swayze) joins the team and later turns out to be the son of a pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and listed as MIA.
With the financial backing of good friend and rich oil businessman McGregor (Robert Stack), whose son served in Frank's platoon and is also listed among the missing, the men train near Galveston, Texas in preparation to undertake a rescue mission at a remote POW camp in Laos. As the team arrives in Southeast Asia, the CIA, fearing an international crisis from Rhodes' actions, intercepts him in Bangkok and confiscates his weapons and equipment. Still determined to rescue their comrades, the team members put together their expense money given to them by McGregor to purchase replacement weapons and supplies. Rhodes contacts an acquaintance, deposed local drug baron Jiang (Kwan Hi Lim), who joins the expedition with his two daughters Lai Fun and Mai Lin. Jiang manages to supply them with outdated but capable World War II-era weapons. In the course of the expedition, Charts gradually forms a relationship with Lai Fun.
Near the Laotian border, the group is attacked by a border patrol unit and Mai Lin is killed. Later, the group divides: Rhodes leads Charts, Sailor, Johnson and Lai Fun as the "air team" to a helicopter compound to secure escape transportation, while Jiang, Blaster, Scott and Wilkes scout out the prison camp as the "ground team." The ground team later discovers four Americans among the prisoners, but are unable to ascertain Frank's whereabouts.
The teams spend the night preparing before commencing the attack the next morning. In a heated battle, they manage to spring the prisoners, among them McGregor's son, but Frank is not among them. Blaster, Sailor and Jiang are killed in the process. From McGregor's son, Rhodes learns that Frank became ill soon after his capture and died, despite McGregor's son's best efforts. It is revealed that Frank was the soldier who stopped to carry a wounded McGregor during the platoon's evacuation to the helicopters in Vietnam in 1972 (as seen in the opening scene), but they were left behind as the helicopter carrying Blaster, Sailor and Wilkes departed the hot landing zone.
Stateside, the group is joyously welcomed by their families with media attention and fanfare. Rhodes finds that in learning the fate of his son, he has gained some closure for his wife and himself.
- Gene Hackman as Colonel Jason Rhodes
- Patrick Swayze as Kevin Scott
- Fred Ward as Wilkes
- Reb Brown as Blaster
- Randall "Tex" Cobb as Sailor
- Tim Thomerson as Charts
- Harold Sylvester as Johnson
- Robert Stack as MacGregor
- Kwan Hi Lim as Jiang
- Lau Nga Lai as Lai Fun
- Gail Strickland as Helen Rhodes
- Jane Kaczmarek as Mrs. Wilkes
- Gloria Stroock as Mrs. MacGregor
- Todd Allen as Frank Rhodes
- Michael Dudikoff as Blaster's Assistant
The Laotian POW camp that forms the climax of the film was built on a private ranch in the Lumahai Valley on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, and was filmed in early August, 1983. The opening scene depicting the Vietnam War was filmed a short distance away in a rice paddy, two miles from central Hanalei, Hawaii, and 200 yards from the Kuhio Highway. Additional parts of the film were shot in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sun Valley, California, and Castaic, California (which served as the training camp).
The helicopters used in the film were purchased (as opposed to rented) and repainted, since the United States Department of Defense was unwilling to rent the production military-spec Bell UH-1N Huey or Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopters due to the apparent "anti-government" nature of the film.
Milius hired a composer without Paramount's consent and Jeffrey Katzenberg over-ruled Milius.
The film was a box-office hit, one of the top-earning films of 1983. Critical reception of the film was mixed, with a 56% rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert of This Week at the Movies: The Movie Review Program both gave the film a thumbs down. In his Chicago Sun-Times review of Uncommon Valor, Ebert gave the film a mixed 2-out-of-4 star review that described the squandering of "first-rate talent" like Kotcheff and Hackman in a film that was little more than "two hours of clichés" delivered with "lead-footed predictability".
- Cedrone, Lou (23 December 1983). "Valor not common but highly unlikely". The Baltimore Evening Sun – via The Daily Courier.
- D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
- Harmetz, Aljean (7 February 1988). "Who Makes Disney Run?". The New York Times. p. A.29.
- "'Uncommon Valor' An Uncommon Hit". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. New York Times News Service. 15 February 1984. p. 8-C – via Google News Archive.
- Uncommon Valor at Rotten Tomatoes
- Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert (1985). "This Time We Win - Vietnam Movie Special (ATM 1985)". This Week at the Movies: The Movie Review Program. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- Ebert, Roger. "Uncommon Valor Movie Review & Film Summary (1983) - Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com.