• U.S.

Cinema: An Unseen Star

2 minute read
Richard Schickel

84 CHARLIE MOPIC Directed and Written by Patrick Duncan

We have been soldiering with this lost patrol since we were kids: the gruff but caring sergeant, preternaturally wise in the ways of the enemy and the equally hostile terrain; the street wisecracking kid; the slow-drawling bumpkin; a man called Hammer and another called Pretty Boy. And, of course, a lieutenant who is both green and ambitious and therefore more dangerous to friend than foe. Such characters have been AWOL from most movies about Viet Nam, and 84 Charlie MoPic would have curiosity value if it only brought them back and restored them to their chief role: demonstrating the masculine need for bonding.

What gives this film a somewhat higher value is the addition of one new character. “84 Charlie MoPic” is an Army term for a documentary cameraman, and all of this film was shot on super-16 mm, as if through his lens. But MoPic provides more than the title; he is responsible for the film’s unique point of view. There is no editing in the formal sense. In the field the cameraman must pan from face to face to cover a scene and use his zoom for close-ups. Tracking shots are handheld, often on the run. Sequences end when the cameraman decides to shut off — or when he runs out of film. We see MoPic only fleetingly, when, for laughs or in a final desperate moment, his comrades turn his camera on him.

This mostly unseen star is played by Byron Thames, but special citations must go to Richard Brooks, Nicholas Cascone and Glenn Morshower, as his most sharply delineated subjects. It is, however, first-time director Duncan’s raw technique that jolts, transforms and grants powerful immediacy to basically banal material. In these bland days, more famous directors, operating on bigger budgets, are not managing to do as well.

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