No Comfort Here!
In 1973, a group of Southern Louisiana National Guardsmen are deployed to the bayous to do some training. This particular unit is tight-knit because they’ve been together for a long time, all except for a newcomer from Texas, Hardin (Powers Boothe). He doesn’t really make friends with anyone, although he does seem to bond a bit with fellow traveler Spencer (Keith Carradine). The group heads deep into the swamps, armed only with blank rounds to train with. They get lost and have to cross a river to get to what they think is back on course. Running into an empty Cajun encampment, they decide to use the boats they find there to cross over. Halfway across, the Cajuns reveal themselves in the tree line and they’re not too happy about having their boats stolen. One of the jokers of the unit, Stuckey (Lewis Smith), thinks it will be funny to fire at the Cajuns using his blank M-16 rounds. Sure, it scares the locals off, but it also unofficially declares war. One of the Cajuns shoots Poole (Peter Coyote), the commander of the troop, dead. And from there it’s on. The Guardsmen must find a way out of bayou alive as they are being systematically stalked and killed by the Cajuns.
What a terrific movie. Director Walter Hill brought together an incredible ensemble cast (including Fred Ward, T.K. Carter, Brion James and Sonny Landham) to basically create a metaphor for the Vietnam War inside the story of a horrific fight for survival. The Guardsmen may all be from Louisiana (except for Hardin) but they are most certainly in foreign, enemy territory. Cocky and brash, they soon find themselves outgunned and being hunted by locals who know the terrain and spare no mercy. The Guardsmen are lost and desperately looking for help only to find none. As their numbers are whittled own, things grow darker and more desperate. One soldier goes crazy, another gives in to murderous impulses, and the assembled men bicker constantly, as a power struggle rises between Spencer and Casper (Les Lannom), the next in charge. Traps are sprung and a Cajun is captured. It all spirals out of control until only two are left and they manage to find a road and a ride to a small village, where the locals are having some sort of celebration. The survivors see two nooses being strung up and fear for their lives. The final few minutes of the film, when the Cajuns gut two big hogs and bleed them out as another group of Cajuns from the swamp hunt down our survivors, turns into a masterclass of suspense. Truly riveting.
Southern Comfort is a raw, gut-churning descent into the horrors of war and the deep, cultural divide in America. It's a movie that got lost in the shuffle back in the early 80’s, finding later life on VHS and Cable. That’s where I discovered it and watched it numerous times. After all this time, it still holds its power and is just as relevant today as it was when it came out. America is still blindly and blunderingly interfering in places we don’t belong, and innocent Americans are dying as a result. Anyway, this was my Memorial Day film and that was my Memorial Day message. Watch this movie if you haven’t. It’s available on Prime, as well, and is truly one of the great Walter Hill films.