ABC’s “The Last P.O.W.?: The Bobby Garwood Story” gives a sympathetic look at the U.S. Marine who became the only U.S. prisoner of war to be prosecuted for his post-capture conduct. The vidpic, like many other works in the Vietnam War genre, portrays the innocence lost and the death-or-survival gainedin those steamy jungles; the topic and name cast should hold captive a solid block of viewers.
While some facts about Bobby Garwood (Ralph Macchio) become lost in the telefilm (such as his ’65 capture, which looks too convenient), there’s a consistent intensity in the acting and the script by John Pielmeier that keep things marching along.
During the Vietnam War, the Code of Conduct forbade captured U.S. servicemen from telling anything but name, rank and serial number. But at his court martial , fellow POWs testified that Garwood was treated better than other prisoners, since he cooperated with his captors, conversing with them in Vietnamese.
Martin Sheen — after all, what’s a Vietnam War movie without a Sheen? — plays the war prison guru, who teaches Vietnamese to the young prisoner of war, and shows him what bugs to eat and how to win a battle of wits against their captors.
With Sheen’s character departing about midway through, telepic can’t help but be wounded slightly. Here, Macchio is forced to carry the production the rest of the way.
Looking young and naive, Macchio pulls off Garwood’s side of the argument: His “communication” with the enemy was by circumstance, due mostly to the fact that he was one of the few prisoners to speak Vietnamese.
But other scenes balance out the argument, showing him willingly if not voluntarily helping the South Vietnamese, particularly Mr. Ho (Le Tuan), his always watchful jailer.
When the war ends, Garwood’s second struggle begins. In 1979, he attracts the attention of a Western visitor in Saigon and eventually gains a trip back to the States, where he’s convicted of “communicating with the enemy.” He’s not imprisoned, but dishonorably discharged and stripped of rank and benefits.
Despite some rough transitions, result is a powerful story with good acting.
Director Georg Stanford Brown keeps the energy hot and heavy, even with the limitations of made-for-TV production. Vidpic efficiently illuminates another Vietnam tragedy.