Friendly Fire (1979)

War comes home to Iowa and Anti-War movies come to television.

Friendly Fire – Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty’s son dies in Vietnam and Sam Waterston writes a book about their struggle to uncover the circumstances behind their son’s death.

This made-for-television has little more to offer other than melodrama and a few odd connections to our present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Carol Burnett plays Peg Mullen, an real-life, apolitical, Iowa farm wife who becomes an out-spoken war-activist. Unsatisfied with the official accounts of her son’s death – listed by the military as being a non-combat  death – Mullen turned her anger into a campaign to criticize the way the government keeps track of and indexes its casualties.

In many ways Peg Mullen is the predecessor to Cindy Sheenan. This is not the only connection to our current military conundrum. Part way through Friendly Fire, John Kerry turns up on the television speaking on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against War – footage that would replay during the 2006 presidential election, giving rise to questions of his patriotism.  Of course, the Mullen’s patriotism is called into question just as much as Kerry or Sheenan’s patriotism has been called into question.

It would be too easy to say that we don’t learn from our past mistakes and that there are lessons to be learned inside of Friendly Fire – lessons that might have made Americans consider what it means to send their young ones off to fight a war. However, one of the strangest parts of Friendly Fire is mid-point inclusion of author C.D. Bryan, played by Sam Waterston. Bryan’s book is the inspiration for the television movie and while it tells the story of the Mullen’s agony and activism it also investigates what really lead to their son’s death. When the truth comes out that their son’s death was truly an accident, horribly muddled by a series of unfortunate military protocols and procedures, the Mullen’s feel Bryan has turned on them. After nearly an hour of intensifying our sympathy for the Mullen’s and our hatred for the military Friendly Fire Bryan suddenly takes the reigns of the story and he really does make you start to question if Peg Mullen is simply an angry mother, stirring-up trouble for no great reason.

David Greene, a veteran of director of countless television features, creates a provocative story that forces you to debate whether or not you side with the Mullen’s or with harsh realities of war. Unfortunately, he does so in such a bland fashion that issue feels as if it is being present for a middle school or high school class to debate before the bell rings and they are off to their next class.


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