Gene Hackman and Danny Glover lend some extraordinary moments to 'Bat 21,' a movie based on the true story of Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, who at age 53 and after a career in the military finally gets his first real look at war.
Directed by Peter Markle, 'Bat 21' is full of surprises, building slowly and predictably, and then exploding into a powerfully emotional climax. It almost seems that the movie will just lolligag along with its scenes of war and death, but Hackman and Glover aren't about to let this movie get away with small stuff. Their combined efforts take 'Bat 21' out of the ordinary.
Hambleton, played by Hackman, is shot down on a mission he accompanies to survey an area in Vietnam that in 48 hours will be leveled by U.S. bombers. His rescue is supposed to be simple -- and quick. But because the area is 'hot' -- heavily covered by the enemy - the helicopter rescue keeps getting put off. Capt. Bartholomew Clark, knick-named 'Bird Dog' and played by Glover, flies the light plane that keeps in touch with Hambleton, code-named 'Bat 21.' Their communication at first is strictly military and impersonal, but as the danger increases, 'Bird Dog' becomes 'Bat 21''s single contact with the hope of safety.
The lieutenant, who is introduced in the movie as the perfect military nerd -- punctual, precise, clever and totally naive - immediately is thrown into the real world of war he has only viewed from the map room or 30,000 feet in the air. He is afraid of what he sees. But there is a bit of hero left in Hambleton as well, and he fights hard to play the war game the way he knows best. 'Bird Dog' on the other hand is full of war wisdom, and should know better than to take the risks he does for the old man he's been assigned to protect. Yet, the hero in 'Bird Dog' drives him to keep coming back for Hambleton, no matter what the odds or how many deaths complicate that mission.
These two rather comical characters manage to illustrate true heroism -- the performance by ordinary people of extraordinary deeds - and make the movie more human than the plot line would indicate. 'Bat 21' is pure war movie, replete with the pyrotechnics and cruelty and crudity that comes with it. But it's the deeds of two ordinary men that bring the war home, emotionally.
There's not much else besides the fine performances of Hackman and Glover, however. The supporting cast fits every other stereotypical war movie grunt you've ever seen. Somehow, it doesn't matter, however, because 'Bat 21' belongs to Hackman and Glover, and director Markle has the good sense to let these two veterans take over the show.
This movie is rated R. Contains strong language and violence.