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Review: Sir! No Sir!

This interesting, respectful portrait of Vietnam protestors lacks a much-needed measure of dramatic nuance and friction.

Sir! No Sir!
Photo: Balcony Releasing

Despite avoiding any mention of Iraq, Sir! No Sir! nonetheless derives its contemporary relevance from its Vietnam subject’s parallels to America’s ongoing Middle East exploits. The story of the G.I. anti-war movement during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, David Zeiger’s documentary—narrated by actor Troy Garrity, Jane Fonda’s son—uses a standard-issue mix of recent interviews, archival photos, newsreel footage, and newspaper clippings in recounting veterans’ opposition to LBJ and Nixon’s disastrous war, meticulously detailing the harassment, humiliation, abuse, and imprisonment suffered by many “mutinous” servicemen and servicewomen who dared break ranks by speaking out against the conflict. Reverential to a fault, the film is most affecting during a discussion of the My Lai massacre in which the “isolated incident” justifications for the atrocity ring eerily similar to those now being employed to explain the unsavory behavior at Abu Ghraib. And moreover, its final segment fascinatingly—if too fleetingly and, thus, only somewhat successfully—attempts to debunk the popular myth of returning G.I.s being spit at and labeled “baby killers” by hippie activists, a legend that, as Zeigler cannily illustrates, became so widely accepted as truth that it was even articulated by Rambo in First Blood. Unfortunately, unlike 1972’s outraged Winter Soldier (clips of which make a brief appearance), Sir! No Sir! lacks a palpable sense of in-the-moment passion, fury, and confusion, offering up largely identical reminiscences from activists who, 30 years later, come across as completely secure in their momentous past decisions. Far be it from me to argue that they should feel differently. And yet because none of its talking heads articulate any hesitancy or doubt about their rebellious behavior—including Fonda, who exudes effusive pride over the controversial F.T.A (Fuck The Army) shows she and Donald Sutherland headlined as a response to Bob Hope’s pro-military U.S.O. shows—the documentary proves to be an interesting, respectful portrait of Vietnam vet protestors that ultimately lacks a much-needed measure of dramatic nuance and friction.

Cast: Troy Garrity, Jane Fonda Director: David Zeiger Screenwriter: David Zeiger Distributor: Balcony Releasing Running Time: 84 min Rating: NR Year: 2005 Buy: Video

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
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