BROTHERS IN ARMS (2004)
Directed by Paul Alexander
Brothers in Arms is a documentary that tells the story of the crew of Patrol Craft Fast 94 as they worked the Mekong Delta in early 1969, and the reason their story is being told is because John Kerry was their commander. Alexander says he came upon the idea for the film in 2002 as he working on the book Man of the People, which tells the story of John McCain and other POWs who were held at the Hanoi Hilton. He was also working on an article about John Kerry for Rolling Stone and learned of the story about Kerry and the PCF 94 crew.
The film is mainly a collection of archival footage and present-day interviews with the men. It was shot as Senator Kerry was running for the nomination in 2003, but regardless of what Alexander says it appears created to be used in defense of Kerry’s record. Not that he was so prescient that he knew the Swift Boat attack ads would happen a year later, but anyone who worked with Kerry over the years would certainly have known that if Kerry won the nomination, he would be dogged, yet again, by detractors and Vietnam veterans who still hate him for his anti-war activities. The access granted while on the campaign trail as the men traveled with Kerry gives the impression that there had to be a great deal of co-operation between the filmmaker and the candidate’s camp.
One of the charges against Kerry is the validity of his Silver Star medal, which comes up every time he runs for office and is specifically dealt with in this film. Of course, none of his critics served on Kerry’s boat, but that doesn’t stop them from spewing their accusations. Del Sandusky, the boat’s pilot, and gunner Mike Medeiros, who ran after a North Vietnamese gunman with Kerry, tell what happened that day. They dispel two of the accusations. They say the boat was shot at and that Kerry didn’t shoot the enemy in the back. I don’t doubt these men are telling the truth.
While the film does provide some insight into John Kerry’s service record, a more interesting story would have focused more on the men and how the Vietnam War still affects their lives. We only learn a little about Sandusky and chief gunner David Alston suffering from alcoholism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder upon their return to the States, yet Kerry, Medeiros and Gene Thorson, who served as the engineman, seem to have come through psychologically unscathed. An examination of that might have better served everyone.
The men of PCF 94 crew are heroes and their stories deserve to be told to honor them and to provide knowledge to the rest of us for the future. The problem is the film comes off like a campaign commercial, so I only see it preaching to the choir. The people of this country are too bitterly divided to let facts get in the way of their opinions. I don’t see Bush-supporters giving the film a chance, since none of Kerry’s opponents get to present their side. It’s a safe bet that Sinclair Broadcasting won’t be ordering their 62 stations to show it before the election. If Kerry runs again for any office, this film will probably resurface as will his enemies.
There’s not much in the way of extras on the DVD. There’s only the Director’s Statement, biographies about the PCF 94 crew and the film crew and a photo gallery.