SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981)
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Film takes place in 1973 with a national guard unit on training maneuvers deep in the Louisiana swamps. A squad of these weekend warriors goes on a recon mission and decides to steal some locals’ boats to cross the bayou. When the owners return in mid-theft, the incident quickly leads to violence and the unit commander (Peter Coyote) is killed. To make matters worse, the soldiers ‘arrest’ a local man (Brion James) and destroy his shack in retribution. Now the remaining guardsman are being hunted through the swamps and killed off one by one by the vengeful inhabitants. With only one box of live ammunition between them and miles of hostile swamp in front of them, their chances of survival seem slim as their numbers dwindle and they start turning on each other, as well.
Southern Comfort is an action/thriller directed by Walter Hill and co-written with David Giler and Michael Kane, that sadly requires a lot of stupid behavior from it’s main characters to move the story along. Granted the leads are supposed to be a bunch of ignorant and arrogant yahoos but, even for these guys, some of their actions just don’t make sense. That and making most of the film’s principals unlikable, for the most part, doesn’t exactly evoke our sympathy much. Only Keith Carradine’s Private Spencer and Powers Boothe’s Corporal Hardin seem to have some common sense and are the only somewhat likable characters here and even that’s pushing it. The film does have atmosphere and it does seem at times like there could be danger around any tree but, it is hampered by a slow pace and the fact that these guys are more of a threat to themselves and each other, than the locals. Despite being a very flawed film, there is still somewhat of an entertainment value to it, thought. Maybe it is seeing these morons get themselves deeper into trouble and then what’s coming to them, sometimes by their own hands and sometimes those of their pursuers. It also takes until the last act before things finally start to click on a thriller level and we get some solid action and suspense. On the positive side, there is some nice cinematography of the Louisiana Bayou by Andrew Laszlo and an atmospheric score by Ry Cooder.
I actually saw this in a theater in 1981 and remember it far more fondly than I did upon my recent revisit. It’s not terrible and there is some decent action but, I guess I was a lot more forgiving in my teens then I am now. It’s an OK flick that’s really hampered by unlikable characters and the constant stupidity with which these trained reservists act and the fact that they pretty much invite all that befalls them with their actions. It finally gets moving in the last act and the blurred line between good guys and bad guys is lifted for a more straightforward finale but, it’s a little late. Overall, it’s just disappointing when I initially remembered it as a much better movie. Also stars Fred Ward, The Thing’s T.K. Carter, Sonny Landham and Buckaroo Banzai’s Lewis Smith.
2 and 1/2 bullets.