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Wednesday, Aug 18 1999
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Return With Honor
Leni Riefenstahl would admire this emotionally potent and morally repugnant portrait of American pilots imprisoned and tortured during the Vietnam War. Ostensibly a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit, this crackingly well-produced film deftly mixes recent interviews with former POWs (several of whom were jailed for more than seven years) with previously unavailable black-and-white footage from Vietnam's archives. The top guns are impressive men, and their sanitized sagas -- or more precisely, their reunions with wives and children -- are inescapably touching. What earmarks the film as propaganda is the astonishing way in which the war itself is backgrounded to the point of invisibility. Outside of a few quotes from JFK and LBJ justifying U.S. actions, the film conveniently centers on the "innocent" pilots in jail, where they were shown footage of anti-war protests at home but not, apparently, of My Lai. We're supposed to bust our buttons with pride at American military education, training, and discipline, but I kept hearing the Dylan lyric, "He was a clean-cut kid/ But they made a killer out of him that's what they did." Funded in part by a grant from the Boeing-McDonnell Foundation, this infuriating tear-jerker will doubtless enjoy a long life as the Official Film of the Air Force Academy.

-- Michael Fox

Return With Honor opens Friday at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is $6.50; call 863-1087.

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Michael Fox

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