MY FATHER’S BROTHERS
Three out of four stars
While there have been a dozen or so critical and financially successful live-action movies about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the majority have been commercial and critical failures.
While most of the high-profile titles (“The Green Berets” , “The Deer Hunter” , “Apocalypse Now” , “Platoon” , “Hamburger Hill” , and “We Were Soldiers” ) fared well with people who never actually spent time “in country,” few veterans had much good to say about any of these movies.
These (mostly) male service members sight softened reality and Hollywood embellishment for their displeasure and it would be difficult (and perhaps a tad disrespectful) for those who weren’t there and didn’t witness things firsthand to pass judgment on those who were.
There have been a few decent Vietnam documentaries – “The Fog of War” (2003) and the Ken Burns-produced PBS series “The Vietnam War” (2017) – but again, neither was particularly well-received by the Vietnam veteran community.
The new documentary “My Father’s Brothers” (now available on demand and on DVD) is the first of its kind inasmuch as it is a Vietnam accounting from just the men still living who lived what could rightfully be defined as Hell on Earth in a battle taking place on June 29, 1966 just outside of Saigon.
The movie opens with a brief bio of multi-decorated Army Captain Jack Kelley, the commander of one of three platoons sent on a search and destroy mission involving “A” Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, and the 173rd Airborne. The only interviewee with formal training and college degree (The Citadel) prior to service, Kelley served two tours before returning home.
Five of the seven interviewees volunteered for duty right out of high school, with two of them under the legal age and needing their parents’ permission to serve.
After being separated from the two other platoons, Kelley and his 40 soldiers were charged with the seemingly insurmountable task of staying alive while staving off more than 300 attacking Viet Cong.
The film covers the events of that horrific day as told by Kelley and seven of the soldiers in his command who remained alive and were present at a 50th anniversary reunion gathering held at Fort Benning in 2016.
Shooting for something along the lines of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and “Band of Brothers” (2001) – each involving the participation of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg – the movie was written, directed, and produced by Kelley’s son Shawn who also served as cinematographer. That’s a great number of hats to wear on one’s first feature outing, a circumstance not likely made by choice but rather out of necessity.
The younger Kelley obviously has his heart in the right place and the dedication, admiration, reverence, and love he has for his father – and his wanting to understand his father’s past – is beyond inspirational.
Clocking in at a scant 73 minutes, “My Father’s Brothers” barely qualifies as a feature and could have been presented in three other possible formats.
Cutting it down to an hour and including it as part of an anthology is one. Reducing it to 40 minutes or less could qualify it as a short film and raised its profile on the festival circuit and made it more visible on the Academy Award Documentary Short Subject consideration list.
Another option would have been to adapt it into a live-action feature (which is still plausible), yet given the track record of so many others of those previously mentioned, lukewarm-received titles, this would defeat the purpose and rob the production of its intimacy and unique stamp.
The arguable high point of the movie comes by way of the text at the start of the closing credits and provides the perfect coda.
“For their efforts and sacrifices on June 29, 1966, the 173rd Airborne received the Medal of Honor, three Silver Stars, 10 Bronze Stars, six Army Commendations, and more than 50 Purple Hearts. Thirteen soldiers were killed in battle and 40 plus were wounded. But no one was left behind.”
Coming out mere weeks after the botched exit in Afghanistan by the Biden administration, “My Father’s Brothers” strikes a particularly stinging, bittersweet tone. No longer will the U.S. participation in the Vietnam War be considered the worst or most mishandled conflict in U.S. military history.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles and is one of the scant few conservative U.S. movie critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here
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