Southern Comfort [2001]

More than merely Deliverance in the Louisiana bayou, Walter Hill's taut little tale of weekend-warrior National Guardsmen on swamp exercises reverberates with echoes of Vietnam. Powers Booth brings a hard pragmatism to the "new guy" in the unit, a Texas transplant less than thrilled with his new group. "They're just Louisiana versions of the same rednecks I served with in El Paso," he tells the levelheaded Keith Carradine. The barely functional unit of city boys and macho rednecks invades the environs of the local Cajun trappers and poachers, "borrowing" the locals' boats and sending bursts of blank rounds over their heads in a show of contempt. Before they know it the dysfunctional strangers in a strange land are on the losing end of a guerrilla war. The swamp rats kill their commanding officer (Peter Coyote) and terrorize the bickering bunch as they flee blindly through the jungle without a map, a compass, or a leader to speak of. Hill directs with a clean simplicity, creating tension as much from the primal landscape and the Cajuns' unsettling reign of terror as from the dynamics of a platoon of battle virgins tearing itself apart from rage and fear. Ry Cooder's eerie and haunting score and the primal, claustrophobic landscape only intensifies the paranoia as the city boys splinter with infighting (sparked by a bullying Fred Ward), blunder through booby traps and ambushes, and finally turn just as savage as their pursuers in their drive to survive. --Sean Axmaker

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