A while back I reviewed Turkey Shoot for Bloody Disgusting. In that review I talked about how Brian Trenchard-Smith is one of my favorite directors despite barely scratching the surface of his resume. The deeper I dive into his filmography, the more impressed I become. I’m now of the opinion that Trenchard-Smith is not only one of the most underrated directors, but one of the best.
In The Siege of Firebase Gloria Trenchard-Smith tackled the Vietnam War. The film starts during the Tet Offensive and we follow a group of marines led by Bill Hafner (R. Lee Ermey). The marines come across a village that looks deserted. They enter the village and are faced with the stuff of nightmares. The villagers have been completely slaughtered. Bloody heads are impaled on huge sticks and piles of the naked dead are everywhere. It’s pretty heavy stuff, especially the piles of dead bodies because it appears to be mostly women and children.
They do find one survivor, a small little boy who is rightfully terrified beyond belief. Hafner’s second in command, DiNardo (Wings Hauser), speaks a bit of Vietnamese and tries the best he can to calm the boy. They search the rest of the village and after finding no one else they leave with the boy.
The plan is to find a nearby base known as Firebase Gloria. They soon do, but quickly realize the base is a mess. The commanding officer spends his free time getting drunk and masturbating. Realizing the only way to make this base somewhat useful is to take power, Hafner concocts a plan with DiNardo to seize control. The plan is to fake an attack on the base and have the officer get hurt during the melee. The plan works like a charm and Hafner begins to the run the base to his liking.
Firebase Gloria is not the safest of places to be. The base is heavily under armed, in both man power and weaponry. A good chunk of the soldiers they do have are badly injured and their medical supplies are running desperately slow. In fact, supplies in general aren’t looking good. They’re in a bad location, surrounded by the Viet Cong. And they’re cut off from most contact to the outside. Needless to say, Firebase Gloria isn’t properly equipped to handle many attacks.
The against-all-odds nature is part of the beauty of The Siege of Firebase Gloria. This sort of oddball collective of misfits does the best they can to come together and defend this base. And some of the things they have to do are pretty unimaginable but that’s just part of war.
Obviously the film is extremely violent. That’s just kind of the nature of war films. Even though I expected that, I was surprised at how violent it actually is. There are a number of big battles scenes and they are bloody. Squibs were just exploding left and right. They’re actually some of the most impressive battle scenes I have seen. Trenchard-Smith pulls you right into the heart of the action.
The aftermath of the battle scenes contain some of the most powerful images you’ll ever see. War is gruesome and this movie wants you to know it. After one of the big early battles a couple of marines walk through the field of slaughter Viet Cong soldiers looking for any that may be living. If they find any breathing, they kill them. And as cold as that may seem, it’s understandable. They don’t want any surprises in the night. You leave an enemy soldier out there alive that close to your base and you’re just asking for trouble. You gotta do what you gotta do.
The human nature side of the film is the most fascinating aspect. Hafner is narrating the story, but I wouldn’t say it’s all through his perspective. He serves more as a guide to help move the story along. We spend time with the Americans and the Viet Cong. We see their differences and their similarities. The similarities are the most striking of all. Everyone seems like a ruthless killer during war. Each side views the other as a harmful threat and yet both show signs of humanity.
Trenchard-Smith does a wonderful job balancing the violence with that humanity. You see the best of people and the worst of people. War brings out both sides. There’s a terrific little scene with an American soldier placing an American flag atop the base and Hafner is shocked, mentioning that he didn’t peg this particularly solider as the flag carrying type. The soldier’s response is, “I don’t care for a lot of it, but what I care for I care a lot.” I can’t express to you how much I love that line.
The Siege of Firebase Gloria sort of has a lot in common with Turkey Shoot when you think about it. Both films have the exploitation violence Trenchard-Smith is known for but he uses that violence to tell a much bigger picture. That’s the mark of a very smart and talented director.
The film also isn’t an in-your-face USA USA USA movie. You know the kind. Most war movies feel like that so The Siege of Firebase Gloria is a breath of fresh air. I suppose that’s the benefit of having a crew that has no reason to be biased towards the U.S. The result is we get American soldiers that aren’t perfect and Viet Cong soldiers that aren’t pure evil.
The film is a bit of an ensemble piece but the bulk of the work goes to Ermey and Hauser which is perfect because both give stellar performances. The relationship between DiNardo and Hafner especially required two strong performances. The two needed to have chemistry because throughout the whole movie you know they’re really close but they’ve also had their issues. With Ermey it should come as no surprise. He has a military background and people know him from a number of military related roles. There is something really special about his voice. It’s perfect for shouting out commands. He demands respect. Hauser is the one who really impressed me because I just haven’t seen him in a whole lot. I didn’t know what to expect from him but he nails it. DiNardo’s character goes through a lot of changes throughout the movie. One minute you hate him, one minute you love him. Hauser handled it all very well.
The Siege of Firebase Gloria is now out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. It’s essentially a bare bones release as the only bonus feature is the film’s trailer. As much as I love special features the lack of them is never a deal breaker. The most important thing is the picture quality which I’m pleased is good here despite having some rough patches. You can tell the print Kino Lorber was working with had a few elements that were less than stellar in a couple scenes. A few times the grain levels are higher than you’d like and there are some scratches that are apparent. These moments are few and far between but they are noticeable. All in all this Blu-ray is definitely a winner.
I’m not big into war movies but I loved The Siege of Firebase Gloria. I’ve always considered Brian Trenchard-Smith to be a very good director. This movie made me realize he’s a great director.
The Siege of Firebase Gloria is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
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