What Happened in Nam Stays in Nam
I will start this review of "Word of Honor" a made for TV movie by saying "A Few Good Men" and I do so because they are similar movies in substance. "Word of Honor" focuses on an atrocity which happened 30 years earlier in Vietnam which having come to light sees a former soldier forced to re-enlist in order to be tried but having to deal with trying to keep his word of honour. It means we have drama, investigation and a military court case but whilst "A Few Good Men" was exciting and powerful, "Word of Honor" is interesting but only solid with a storyline which keeps you watching more than anything.
30 years after witnessing the massacre of a hospital during Vietnam terminally ill Dr. Steven Brandt (John Heard) decides to tell his story to a journalist of what happened and says that Benjamin Tyson (Don Johnson - Tin Cup) was responsible for the order to kill everyone. Having retired from the army and now a happily married father of one with a good job Tyson finds himself forced to re-enlist in the army thanks to an obscure clause in order to stand trial. But Tyson had given the men of his platoon his word of honour not to ever say what happened at the hospital and not only does that now cause a wedge between him and his wife for refusing to talk but could see him sentenced to death.
"Word of Honor" is an interesting movie but that interest comes from the strength of the story as whilst we have drama from Tyson dealing with his wife being upset over his refusal to speak it is what he knows which keeps us watching. Everything rests on eventually discovering his side of what happened and thankfully the story keeps the truth from us until the final 10 minutes so whilst we learn certain things along the way such as Dr. Brandt's motive for telling his story we are still kept waiting for what happened. And at that point the focus really centres on the movies title as to why after all the years Tyson continued to protect his men because of his word of honor.
The thing is that the basic storyline is good but for what ever reason, be it budgetary constraints of being a TV movie or maybe some wrong casting "Word of Honor" ends up a solid but unremarkable military court drama. Of course I say that having watched other military court dramas and as such felt the sense of atmosphere and energy is lacking throughout even when it comes to the big finale as the truth comes out. It's not that it is badly done but you know that with more time and money this movie could have really come alive to deliver a truly gripping atmosphere which is what it basically lacks.
Despite that there are some good performances be it from Sharon Lawrence who plays Tyson's wife to Peter MacNeill as Brig. Gen. Norm Van Arken. But the focus of the movie is Tyson which means I need to focus on Don Johnson and in a way he is well cast in the role because Johnson brings a touch of cool and controlled to his character but yet emits just enough concern so that we are aware that his decision to keep his word weighs heavy on him. The only trouble is that when it comes to Johnson's big moment to shine as the courtroom action draws to it climax he doesn't raise his game enough for me which means it remains solid but lacking power.
What this all boils down to is that in a way "Word of Honor" is what I expected from a made for TV military court drama. It is lacking various things which a big budget movie has but it is still a solid drama thanks to the storyline.