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Ambush (Film Review)

2 min read

War is ugly. And Ambush, despite its faults, captures this well, diving under the dirt of the Vietnam War both literally and figuratively.

Starring two headliners in Aaron Eckhart and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ambush more closely follows a crew of engineers thrown onto the frontlines, led by Corporal Ackerman (Connor Paolo). Their mission? Well, to retrieve the MacGuffin of all MacGuffins – a binder with some important information about something.

It's not important. Instead, the focus of the film is the journey to get there. Ackerman and his men, under orders from Eckhart's General Drummond and Captain Mora (Gregory Sims), must enter the belly of the Vietnamese Earth with the help of tracker Miller (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) – they enter tunnels dug by the Viet Cong, barely armed, in search for the binder.

Connor Paolo is an unconventional hero in Ambush.

There they encounter dangers both in trap and human form. The team splits up to double the ground covered, only to half their chances of survival against overwhelming odds. Director Mark Burman uses these moments to grind tension out of the screen, and it's pretty effective at times. Ambush is brutal and when it chooses to focus on this group's struggle to survive, it captures that kill-or-be-killed desperation.

Burman also has fun with the camera when he's directing the action, particularly in close quarters. He helms it by hand with a flowing movement reminiscent of Gareth Evans (a director who continues to go unrecognized in his revitalization of contemporary action). The darkness can occasionally lead to disorientation but this weirdly works in the film's favor as the men slowly start to lose control.

A talented actor goes underused – Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Ambush.

The film loses its way when it leaves the confines of the underground. I like Eckhart and Rhys Meyers a lot, but they're not given a lot to do besides brood and provide standard “by all means necessary” speeches seen in countless war movies. The message is blunt: war is hell and the people up top are willing to sacrifice anyone to win it. But Burman just doesn't have the material to make it come off, and weirdly resorts to a contradictorily patriotic ending that upends all of the grittiness that came before.

But I enjoyed the ride. Ambush certainly isn't framed with the most compelling of perspectives and the conclusion throws the film for a loop. Yet Burman's direction gives the film a much-needed boost. Prepare to batten down the hatches – just don't forget a torch.