The Iron Triangle

There’s one original angle in The Iron Triangle, and it’s probably worth noting. This is another Vietnam movie, and a low-budget one at that, but the angle is that it tells a good deal of its story from the point of view of a North Vietnamese soldier. The enemy here is not just a target in the jungle at night, but a human presence.

The credits claim that the script is based on the confiscated diaries of a Viet Cong soldier. As the film portrays its Viet Cong characters, it comes to the unsurprising conclusion that a soldier is a soldier, and that the enemy side was as rife with the same kinds of fears, hopes, and bitterness as our side was.

This idea of showing war from the other side is a bit old, although it is new for Vietnam movies. And it’s the only intriguing thing about The Iron Triangle, which otherwise tells a hackneyed story.

At first, director/co-writer Eric Weston spins the tale from two perspectives. One thread follows a U.S. Army captain (Beau Bridges) leading his platoon through treacherous territory. The other thread follows a young V.C. soldier (newcomer Liem Whatley, a native of Vietnam), an ambivalent sniper. His superior is played by Haing S. Ngor, the Cambodian refugee who won the Supporting Actor Oscar for The Killing Fields.

Eventually Bridges is captured by the young Viet Cong soldier during an attack, and taken as a tense prisoner across the jungle. That’s where they learn about the other’s humanity.

Well, fine. But the film regularly dips into the library of war-movie clichés. You have to groan when Bridges’ narration announces that, “There are some sights in war that you always remember. A beautiful woman is one of them.” Also, the music emulates Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” used so eloquently in Platoon, and the jungle stuff (the film was shot in Sri Lanka, not far from the location of The Bridge of the River Kwai) is too familiar.

With all the brotherhood being espoused, it is peculiar that The Iron Triangle chooses the South Vietnamese as its villains. A South Vietnamese officer who brutally executes prisoners is the cruelest character in the movie, and a radio propaganda hostess is the standard dragon-lady type until she is abruptly dispatched. The film has good intentions, but some odd effects.

First published in The Herald, February 9, 1989

I do not recall the film, but I failed to mention in my rather uninspired review that it co-stars Johnny Hallyday, the great French rock ‘n roll star. Weston is also the director of Evilspeak.

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