The Siege Of Firebase Gloria (1989)
There was a wealth of revisionist Vietnam War films released in the wake of Oliver Stones’ Oscar winning Platoon. Not all were of equal merit or technical competence but occasionally a low budget B movie can surpass the big studio competition. The Siege of Firebase Gloria is one such example, being a minimalist, straightforward film about US Marines defending an isolated outpost in Vietnam, during the Tet offensive. Directed by British expatriate Brain Trenchard-Smith and starring R. Lee Ermey, Wings Hauser and Albert Popwell ("Hey, I've gots to know!"), it’s often been overlooked. However it’s low key plot which seeks no more than to show a small facet of the war, sheds more light upon the overall war and a soldier’s life than one would expect from such a modest production.
While on reconnaissance, Sergeant-Major Hafner (R. Lee Ermey) comes across a destroyed village and surmises that "Charlie" is on the move. When the patrol arrives at Firebase Gloria, Hafner takes command from the drug crazed commanding officer and desperately tries to prepare the disorganised base for the impending assault. The chain of command refuses to acknowledge any potential danger and refuses to offer any help. Meanwhile NVA Col. Cao Van prepares his men to swarm and overrun the firebase. He realises that using such a tactic may well provide a favourable result but will inevitably result in a heavy death toll. Such a decision weighs heavily upon him.
The Siege of Firebase Gloria is not your stereotypical flag waver. With clearly drawn characters, a workman like yet amusing script and effective camerawork, the film paints a more vivid and unsettling portrait of the Vietnam War. It also makes its point more effectively than some of the other pretentious movies in the genre. Ermey gives a grounded, genuine performance and it can be argued that he carries the film from the average to the worthy. Wings Hauser is a little over taxed as the burnt out Corporal suffering with PTSD. Albert Popwell provides solid support as the career soldier trying to maintain standards in environment where the "rules" are breaking down. The action scenes are effective and the production strives beyond the confines of its modest production.
There's nothing remarkable about the central story for The Siege of Firebase Gloria. This is a tale that has been told in various shapes and forms, many times before. However this particular movie explores a siege situation both efficiently and with a noticeable degree of honesty. There are brutalities and error of judgement committed by both sides. Neither is presented in the usual binary terms. The NVA are depicted as simply being soldiers doing a job which in many ways mirrors the Americans. This is a movie eschews the geo-political views of the time and simply focuses on the immediacy of the battle and the impact that it has upon all concerned. As a result The Siege of Firebase Gloria is more than just the sum of its parts and displays a degree of conviction seldom seen in the genre.