GO TELL THE SPARTANS packs a serious amount of punch in its pint-sized frame. People always seem to demand that Vietnam War movies wrap up the whole sorry business in one telling, which is asking for rather a lot of resolution in a few hours of craft. The big-time productions worked well at the results end of the barrel—Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket with the insanity, Platoon with the savagery, The Deer Hunter, Coming Home and Born On The 4th Of July with the emotional cost. This little piece, done in 1978 on a shoestring for $1,500,000, gets back to the start (or close enough), when we hadn’t yet landed with both hobnailed boots, just a limited number of advisers—1964.
In 114 minutes, Wendell Mayes’ terrific script does the heavy lifting for the threadbare visuals (a few dozen Vietnamese immigrants employed as extras behind the small cast, in undramatic locations (they shot in scrub brush around Valencia, California instead of the generic Hawaii or Philippines doubling as Indochina). Taking the scope off the usual spectacle of cool explosions, a lot of stars and a bunch of gear, eschewing ‘heavy’ allusions to Conrad and Custer, the profane, funny, down-to-earth dialogue and situations bring the waste, heroism, naivete, duplicity and tragedy of the war into something approaching a focus, sticking with one small team in one crappy coordinate, for some obscure directive, to no good outcome.