“We don’t know the enemy’s strength or his disposition — and while he may have the advantage of familiar terrain, we have the advantage of military training.”
A group of Louisiana National Guardsmen (including Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward, Franklyn Seales, and Peter Coyote) find themselves lost in the bayou, fighting for survival against militant local Cajuns.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Deep South
- Walter Hill Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “extremely intense, violent” film by director Walter Hill “can be seen as a metaphor for American involvement in Vietnam”, given that “we see the parallels between these initially arrogant guardsmen and those American soldiers who trespassed through Vietnamese jungles and… acted with condescension toward the illiterate peasants”, often being “blown away” as a result. Indeed, the allegory is hard to miss, and occasionally comes across as heavy-handed; as Roger Ebert accurately points out, the characters in Southern Comfort never fully come alive — we only get to see one of the Cajun militants (an effective Brion James), and, in classic cinematic platoon fashion, the guardsmen are racially and socially diverse “types” (trigger-happy punk, loose cannon, fatherly leader, etc.) rather than individuals.
With that said, the film has much going for it: it’s beautifully shot (the seemingly endless bayou is all muted greens and grays and browns); Ry Cooder’s score is a “good” one; Powers Boothe gives a fine, enigmatic performance; and there are many genuinely tense sequences — particularly the “nerve-wracking” finale, “in which [Carradine and Boothe] nervously party with seemingly friendly Cajun villagers while looking over their shoulders for the vengeful backwoodsmen”. This extended sequence, shot with dozens of seemingly authentic locals, makes one intensely curious to learn more about this mysterious segment of American society.
Note: The film’s tone and subject immediately bring to mind Jon Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), but film fanatics may also be reminded of the little-seen Peary title Shoot (1976).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Powers Boothe as Cpl. Hardin
- Effective location shooting
- Ry Cooder’s score
No, but it’s definitely worth a look.