A hapless band of soldiers in the National Guard are on a training mission in the forests of Louisiana. When a gung-ho member of the team play-fires at a group of locals, the gang’s leader, Staff Sergeant Poole (Peter Coyote), is shot, leaving them to struggle through the wilderness alone.
While most of the mainstream media can be relied upon to treat the armed forces with an unconditional reverence, it’s often left to film to present a less rose-tinted view. From Apocalypse Now! to Full Metal Jacket, films are often prepared to show soldiers in a far less flattering light than other mediums, and Southern Comfort is another fine example of this. But with it’s domestic setting, it has more in common stylistically with Deliverance and First Blood than these war movies.
The problems the group encounter are initially as a result of their own collective idiocy, and the things that are not their own fault are exacerbated by their general incompetence. It also employs the well established view of the National Guard as undisciplined, lazy part timers who spend their time having a laugh and assaulting protesters.This gives this film a hint of black comedy, as the bleak hilarity of their situation becomes apparent.
But while the group are in no small part responsible for the situations they find themselves in, as the film goes on we see how they decreasingly deserve the unpleasant situations that befall them, thus increasing our sympathy for their plight. This is a crucial balance to strike, as without it we would be left not caring about our characters.
This is a superbly made, well acted and excellently shot film which presents a scathing critique of the military alongside its lost-in-the-forest plot.