This is a real steak and potatoes action film, hold the romantic subplots, with a few side orders of testosterone and piss and vinegar on the side. Blunt, absurd, and frequently entertaining, Uncommon Valor is the sort of 80’s action film that would be tough to get made these days. The men-on-a-mission narrative centers on a retired United States Marine Colonel (Gene Hackman) who believes that his son is still being held as a POW in Laos after the Vietnam War has ended. After getting funded by a rich oil tycoon (Robert Stack) with a missing son of his own, Hackman enlists the help of a group of ex-military personnel and old war buddies of his son, including Fred Ward, Randall “Tex” Cobb, Reb Brown, Michael Dudikoff, Patrick Swayze in a very early role, Harold Sylvester, and Tim Thomerson. If that’s not one of the most masculine casts of cinematic beef then I don’t know what is. Directed with square-jawed efficiency by Ted Kotcheff (Wake in Fright, First Blood, and North Dallas Forty, to name just three) and written with predictable heroics by Joe Gayton (from a story concocted by Wings Hauser), the film features a rousing musical score by James Horner, and sinewy, slow-motion enhanced cinematography by the extremely talented and underrated Stephen H. Burum, who was Brian De Palma’s frequent collaborator behind the camera, and a truly versatile cinematographer, having dipped his cinematic hands into a variety of genres (Body Double, Snake Eyes, Mystery Men, 8 Million Ways to Die, The Shadow, Hoffa, and The Untouchables are just a few of his insane credits). Released in December of 1983 with Vietnam still visible in the rearview mirror, the film would become a solid box office hit, likely capitalizing on the inherently compelling scenario and the film’s numerous and extremely well handled action sequences. The opening act is a little choppy from a directorial stand point, but once this film finds its footing, it hits hard and often, and even if the entire film is just a tad over the top, it’s that special sort of 80’s over the top which feels downright quaint today. The U.S. military apparently refused to help the production due to the perceived anti-government slant to the script. Produced by John Milius, Michael Tolkin, David Brown, and Buzz Feitshans.


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