×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Soldier’s Sweetheart

Just when you think all the basic Vietnam stories have been told, helmer Thomas Michael Donnelly puts a new spin on America's lost cause by viewing it from a female angle. Striving for mythic levels -- although there's plenty of scary grit to it -- "A Soldier's Sweetheart" taps into an aspect of warfare that transcends gender. Subject, then, is a difficult one, but extremely well-mounted pic could resonate with women if Paramount can find a way to package it for theatrical release; in the wake of Spielberg's femme-less "Saving Private Ryan," there could be an appetite for this strikingly honest look at women and war.

With:
Rat - Kiefer Sutherland Marianne - Georgina Cates Fossie - Skeet Ulrich Eddie - Daniel London Bobbie D - Louis Vanaria Shoeshine - Larry Gilliard Jr. Sanders - Christopher Birt

Just when you think all the basic Vietnam stories have been told, helmer Thomas Michael Donnelly puts a new spin on America’s lost cause by viewing it from a female angle. Striving for mythic levels — although there’s plenty of scary grit to it — “A Soldier’s Sweetheart” taps into an aspect of warfare that transcends gender. Subject, then, is a difficult one, but extremely well-mounted pic could resonate with women if Paramount can find a way to package it for theatrical release; in the wake of Spielberg’s femme-less “Saving Private Ryan,” there could be an appetite for this strikingly honest look at women and war. Made for eventual Showtime slots, pic stands to lose much of its considerable power on the small screen.

Originally called “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” after a story by Tim O’Brien, pic introduces us — via flashbacks narrated by the cynical Rat (Kiefer Sutherland) — to a motley crew of army medics stationed on a verdant hillside in war-torn Vietnam. With all their officers killed or pushed on to more pressing matters, the enlisted men of the Song Tra Bong (a place, not a tune) live a relatively loose, MASH-like existence, with long periods of peaceful freedom broken by unimaginably grisly work on mangled GIs ‘coptered in straight from battle.

During one of the quiet spells, Rat’s pal Fossie (Skeet Ulrich) hears about a similarly isolated unit that pooled its resources to import a good-time girl. He takes this to heart and sets black-market wheels in motion. But instead of a Saigon hooker, the eventual arrival is Fossie’s hometown g.f., the teenage Marianne (Georgina Cates). Naturally, the other men are shocked by the presence of such a milk-fed innocent. And with this lamblike creature exploring the compound in her parade of skimpy, pastel-colored outfits, they’re disturbed in other ways, too. Instead of their Shangri-La devolving into a “Lord of the Flies”-type situation, however, the group finds its humanity refreshed by the unexpected visitor from way back home.

Even as the boys in green are softened by the young woman’s presence, she starts going through a curious transformation: Given a crack at small-arms fire and instant triage in the blood-spattered field hospital, Marianne finds herself drawn to the carnality of it all. She develops a tendency to wander into the countryside to explore nature (potentially dangerous, like her own), and also befriends a group of fearsome Green Berets, or Greenies, as they’re called by Rat’s intimidated crowd.

Naturally, this personality shift rattles her guy, who’s soon angling to send her home, even as she goes deeper into the idea of war. After she joins the Greenies on an all-night patrol, Fossie flips, and so do their roles, with the sensitive soldier wondering if his increasingly tough mate will come back alive.

Some viewers will find Marianne’s arc too big to follow, and indeed, the story doesn’t demand that she be quite so soft and pretty at the start, considering that she’ll be knee-deep in mud and blood by the end. Still, she’s convincingly played by Cates, here sporting a solid Yank accent, a svelte figure and a tan — making her unrecognizable from the pudgy, pasty-faced Brit who stumbled amusingly through “An Awfully Big Adventure.” Ulrich helps by reading much subtle information into his essentially passive role.

The real standout, though, is Sutherland; his beautifully balanced dance of tension and restraint makes this some of the best, most thoughtful work he’s done. The kicker is that Rat is quietly in love with Marianne, despite his hardened view of her Nam experience.

In Donnelly’s previous Showtime effort, “The Garden of Redemption,” likewise a war drama (it’s part of a proposed trilogy for the cabler), his helming collapsed under the weight of its own ambition. But here he keeps his eye on the ball, with magic slipping into the realism — aided by lush New Zealand settings — just enough to suggest that the narrative can be viewed as fable more than fact. His allusions to related pics, especially “Lost Horizon” and “All Quiet on the Western Front,” are appropriate without being overly pointed.

Donnelly’s also good with the talent, allowing some lesser characters to display their own rhythms. Particularly notable are the fast-talking, hustle-minded Eddie (Daniel London) and the group’s token black, the egregiously nicknamed Shoeshine (Larry Gilliard Jr.), who manage to carve out identities with relatively little screen time.

A Soldier's Sweetheart

Production: A Paramount release of a Showtime Networks presentation of a Moloney/Donnelly production. Produced by William S. Gilmore. Executive producer, Marianne Moloney. Directed, written by Thomas Michael Donnelly, based on the short story "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" by Tim O'Brien. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 9, 1998. Running time: 112 MIN.

Crew: Camera (color), Jacek Laskus; editor, Anthony Sherin; music, Gary Chang; production designer, Doug Kraner; art director, Ralph Davies; costume designer, Leesa Evans; sound, Tony Johnson; assistant director, Robert Huberman; casting, Pennie du Pont.

With: Rat - Kiefer Sutherland Marianne - Georgina Cates Fossie - Skeet Ulrich Eddie - Daniel London Bobbie D - Louis Vanaria Shoeshine - Larry Gilliard Jr. Sanders - Christopher Birt

More Film

  • Marighella review

    Berlin Film Review: 'Marighella'

    Does Brazil need a film that openly advocates armed confrontation against its far-right government? That’s the first question that needs to be asked when discussing “Marighella,” actor Wagner Moura’s directorial debut focused on the final year in the life of left-wing insurrectionist Carlos Marighella during Brazil’s ruthless military dictatorship. For whatever one might think of [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night

    ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, DreamWorks Animation claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” Ads placed for the fantasy film had an estimated media value [...]

  • Marc Weinstock Mary Daily Paramount

    Paramount Pictures Names Mary Daily Co-President of Marketing, Distribution With Marc Weinstock

    Paramount Pictures has promoted Mary Daily, the current international marketing and home entertainment head, to co-president of worldwide marketing and distribution. Daily will join incoming co-president Marc Weinstock in the role. Variety previously, exclusively reported that Weinstock, former president of Annapurna Films, would be coming to the storied Hollywood lot to replace David Sameth. Both [...]

  • The Favourite Black Panther

    Audience for Best Picture Nominees Most Diverse in Years, Report Shows

    Theatergoers for Academy Awards best picture-nominated films have become younger and more diverse over the past four years, a report released exclusively to Variety showed. Movio, a Vista Group company which specializes in cinema marketing data analytics, said the changes in demographic shifts correspond to the best picture lineup becoming more diverse since the 2015 [...]

  • Emma Thompson

    Emma Thompson Exits Skydance Animation Movie 'Luck' Over John Lasseter Hire

    Emma Thompson has dropped out of the voice cast of Skydance Animation’s upcoming film “Luck,” a spokesperson for the actress told Variety. The beloved British star did some recording for the project, but dropped out in January, following John Lasseter’s hire to the top animation job at David Ellison’s studio, an insider close to the [...]

  • Daniel Kaluuya Lakeith Stanfield

    Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield in Talks to Star in Film About Black Panther Party Leader

    Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are in negotiations to star in the historical drama “Jesus Was My Homeboy” about Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. The project is set up at Warner Bros. with “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler producing along with Charles King through his Marco production company. Executive producers are Sev Ohanian, Zinzi [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content