Although the election is over, Judge Dennis Prince wants you to join him in a return to the Mekong Delta on a desperate search for the missing half of John Kerry's left eyebrow.
"My luck, obviously, was someone else's misfortune."—Senator John Kerry
"You were either for the war and pro-American…or you were a traitor."—Mike Medeiros
Despite your political affiliation, regardless of whom you supported (and alternately hated) during the 2004 Presidential campaign, so much hay was made of the military service of both candidates that it all became incredibly boring and effectively marginalized the allegations of each party before any of us had a chance to punch our ballots. In the sea of political flotsam that now lays strewn about and useless like so much spent confetti of a parade now past, Brothers In Arms is just another example of the sort of hyped-up hubris pitched to sway what would be revealed as a surprisingly small body of "undecideds." Now, erase the Presidential hopeful from this work and you wind up with a reasonably compelling account of four men and their experiences in the Mekong Delta. Arguably, these were the heroes on hand, none of which would throw military medals—theirs or anyone else's—in an opportunistic turnabout.
Director Paul Alexander gathers Vietnam War veterans David Alston, Del Sandusky, Mike Medeiros, and Gene Thorson—oh, and John Kerry—for an hour of head-shot interview segments that's rather unimaginative and outright bland. However, as we sit by and listen, the captivating stories and colorful personalities of the four longer-term veterans are truly engaging. While the documentary is obviously intended to clear the hopeful Kerry of the damaging challenges to his own assertions of professed wartime heroism, those complicated by his own antiwar efforts following his four-month layover, it never really succeeds in clearing any of the swirl of controversy. Granted, a couple of statements are made to exonerate Kerry's conduct and convince the audience of his worthiness of the medals collected, but it seems a bit too deliberate to truly resonate of sincerity. Again, though, Kerry is not the story here; it's the four real heroes who share not only their tales of being under fire during their tours of duty but, more poignantly, the heart-wrenching challenges they endured upon returning to civilian life. Alston—now Reverend Alston—is the high point of the entire production, freely sharing the details of his battles with alcoholism, the loss of his wife, and his coming to faith. Meanwhile, the scant portions featuring Kerry leave him looking comparatively unconvincing and artificially polished.
This lack-umentary, then, operates with about as much impact as having a leaflet stuffed into our unsuspecting hands, thrust there by wild-eyed political groupies charged with "getting the message out." And, like those leaflets, this disc is deserving of being summarily discarded for its hackneyed political aspirations. What saves this piece, though, from being entirely dismissed as landfill fodder is the compelling life stories and experiences of the four true brothers in arms—Alston, Sandusky, Medeiros, and Thorson—who are refreshingly unpolished, unrehearsed, and largely untainted by any ulterior motive (although Medeiros seems to be the more coached in his defense of Kerry). It's interesting, really, to look at the cover photo on the DVD keep-case, as it shows Thorson, Alston, Sandusky, and Medeiros huddled shoulder to shoulder while Kerry is sort of tagging along in the photo off to the right. As this 68-minute excursion moves along, it's clear that Kerry is once again the fifth wheel. If the intent was to display the sort of bond that Kerry proclaimed on the stump, it's simply not here. The stories of the other veterans on hand, however, are compelling enough to keep you watching. I salute those men.
On disc, this full-screen transfer of Brothers in Arms looks good enough. It's often uneven in contrast and detail level through the different interview segments. Naturally, the image quality wavers through the different archival footage segments—black and white battle sequences, color shots of the PCF boat scooting along the delta, and the now-infamous Senate sub-committee hearings. Certainly it's not the sort of production from which you'd expect stellar image quality and, on that level, it matches expectations. The audio is presented in a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix that fares better than the image quality and keeps the conversation clear and intelligible throughout. Extras on the disc are rather lackluster, amounting to a "director's statement," a photo gallery, brief text biographies, and trailers for other First Run Features releases.
In the end, none of this seems to matter much anymore, politically speaking. What do matter are the experiences, the stories, and the sacrifices of Thorson, Alston, Sandusky, and Medeiros. These men are real American heroes, yet, sadly, their important comments on this disc are certainly diminished by the motivation that brought them to light in the first place. Forget the 2004 election, forget the runners-up, but never forget the service of America's finest.
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