Filmmaker Mark Earl Burman hasn’t solo-directed a full feature in more than twenty-five years, but he’s worked within capacity as a producer on dozens of titles in addition to several more acting and screenwriting credits. His sophomore effort treads familiar territory for fans of compelling military and survival dramas with Ambush, tracking back to 1966 during the Vietnam War with the story of a mission gone awry.
That mission is assigned by General Drummond (Aaron Eckhart) to Green Beret Captain Mora (Gregory Sims), to be on hand at a remote base camp on the edge of the jungle to receive a package being ushered by two army units. The package in question: a highly-sensitive intel binder containing a list of the names and locations of Vietnamese operatives working with the U.S., something which has only just become news to the camp’s C.O., Corporal Ackerman (Connor Paolo), who has been under a different impression.
All seems well when the binder is retrieved and Mora reports in with time to spare until his return from the camp, when all of a sudden, dozens of Vietcong launch a surprise attack resulting in a deadly firefight, resulting in the binder’s disappearance. In the aftermath of the cataclysm and with the crucial ledger now back in enemy hands, it’s up to Mora, and the newly arrived and highly trained Colonel Miller (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) to help lead the young and largely inexperienced commandos into the very underground network of tunnels the Vietcong use to their favor, infiltrate enemy territory, and retrieve the binder in a constrained window of only two hours until Drummond closes the book himself.
Ambush boasts an attractive production from sound and score to cinematography and solid performances worthy of its target audience, with some of the most intense delivery from actors Sims and Meyers; Their first scene together places you squarely in the direct view of the characters they play which sets the tone excellently as the film approaches its second act following the inaugural round of gunfire that ensues.
Between the younger and older cast, you easily get the dichotomy that’s etched into the story. Paolo’s unfledged Ackerman is at the forefront of the scrutiny the camp faces within the film’s first act with some of the other young soldiers taking on more entrenched and mature attitudes akin to their superiors. The big catch here is that with the ever-increasing danger comes the stakes, as Ackerman acts on orders to take a team down into the dark and labyrinthine Cu Chi tunnels, a key point of development as the third act of the film nears.
The mission proves to be a true trial by fire for Ackerman and his men with Miller and his unit cautiously scouring the land for Vietcong, and the result is one brush with death after another as several of the men are wiped out underground through vicious traps and direct retaliation with several gun battles and close-quarters scuffles to boot. Conclusively, what remains to be seen is the effect to which this test of one’s mettle has on a few key supporting characters who are both underdogs from the start of the film. It’s an albeit brilliant twist in a brooding hour and forty-plus minute-long story with Eckhart’s grizzled Drummond lending a signature send-off that challenges you with an unflinching and near-fatalist perspective on the consequential nature of war in all its unapologetic brutality and politics.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.