going back (2002)


director: sidney j. furie

caspar van dien, carre otis

You know things are going badly, very early on in Sidney J. Furie’s ‘Nam film Going Back, when it becomes apparent that the square-jawed Caspar Van Dien, a squinting cipher of an actor whose career highlight was Starship Troopers, is supposed to be playing himself both as a young officer in 1968 and as a grizzled vet returning to Vietnam at nearly sixty.

Going Back is the kind of war film where anguished performances outnumber battle scenes, a genre - let’s call it a “milidrama” - that reached its peak with From Here To Eternity and has been in decline ever since. Van Dien plays Ramsay, the onetime leader of a combat unit who apparently betrayed his men and lost their loyalty, reunited with them years later as they return to their former battlefields and much flaunting of mental and physical scars.

Van Dien’s performance is channeled mostly through his stubble, but it’s more than enough for Carre Otis as a TV journalist who tags along with the men and instigates a re-enactment of the battle that destroyed them as a fighting unit and, we’re agonizingly meant to understand, as men. The old soldiers return to Ho Chi Minh City eager to slip into their former whoring, alcoholic habits, with the exception of Ramsay and two other survivors, one of whom has become a preacher to atone for his past sins, the other an academic gone Red with sympathy for his former enemies.

With every step of the way, the men become more aggressively maudlin, bursting into tears and flinging themselves into group hugs, then exploding at Ramsay in rage. When they finally re-enact the incident that destroyed their camaraderie - a mutiny and a misdirected artillery strike that would have been cleared up in a military inquiry and a couple of de-briefings - the film, and the men, dissolve into a bawling, shrieking mess, agonizingly prolonged with an orgy of slow-motion.

Van Dien isn’t an actor with much reputation to lose, and Otis only buffs up a long list of performances best glimpsed through her customary, perhaps even contractual, gauze-draped love scenes. Still, you feel sorry for the actors playing Ramsay’s men, some of whom have solid resumes in character roles, and who can only hope that time will bury the memory of this agonizingly bad film in their filmographies.

no stars