An Unlikely Weapon Movie Review

In one of the iconic photographs of the Vietnam War, South Vietnamese General Nguyen Nygor Loan is shown shooting a Vietnam guerilla in the head at point blank range. The horrific grimace of the captive and the cool and perfect aim of General Loan captured the moment of death of the prisoner at 1/500th of a second. The photograph caused a worldwide sensation and brought the Pulitzer Prize and fame to the AP photographer, Eddie Adams, who is the subject of Susan Morgan Cooper's laudatory but diffuse exploration of Adams's life and work An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story.

The film commences as Cooper follows Adams prowling around his East Village stomping ground, grousing about fame and his achievements. Adams certainly doesn't take himself or his life too seriously as he grumpily comments, "We all want to be the best. I don't know why. I mean, what's the difference? Nobody really gives a shit. So you wonder why we put so much into something. Because we are all going to die. We're disposable. And who really gives a shit, you know?" Later on in the film, he comments on his famous photograph: "When I saw the picture I wasn't impressed, and I'm still not impressed." Cooper has her work cut out for her when her subject doesn't even want to be bothered talking about his work or when he demeans it as meaningless.

But even though Adams doesn't give a shit, a lot of other people do, and Cooper gives most of the stage to the gaggle of journalists and photographers who have crossed Adams' path throughout his trajectory of covering 13 wars and photographing six American Presidents and every major movie star and celebrity in the last 50 years. The long list of talking heads include Peter Arnett, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Gordon Parks, Bill Eppridge, Bob Schieffer, George Esper, and Morley Safer, who dryly remarks, "Eddie was not your sedate, thoughtful photographer. He was a grunt. He went out and did his job and looked for trouble both on and off the job."

The general consensus is that Adams was not one to suffer fools gladly. A great story Adams relates is about getting pissed off waiting for Fidel Castro to grant him an audience to photograph him. After waiting at a hotel for a week, Adams packed up his gear and told Castro's flunky that he was heading home and added a few choice works for Castro to boot. In the end, Castro, in order to atone for his snub of Adams, agreed to take Adams duck hunting, where Adams got some terrific shots of Castro with dead ducks and presumably supper for a week.

The problem with An Unlikely Weapon is that stories like the Castro tale come few and far between. Instead there is talking head after talking head monotonously attesting to Adams' greatness and humanity. Occasionally, there is a slide show of Adams's photos, but the secondhand commentaries subsume everything.

Then there's Adams himself, who is something of an enigma, which Cooper is willing to accept and unwilling to explore in a more than ephemeral way. There are hints at something below the surface of Adams that make you want to shout the follow-up question that never comes. Comments like Walter Anderson's of Parade Magazine remarking that Adams was "an editor's dream and an editor's nightmare" are left unexamined. What that means, we will never know.

Adams himself hints at a something darker brewing under his gruff exterior. He talks about his collection of photographs, Boat of Smiles, and says, "That was the only thing I did in my life that was good. I mean, I'm not a good guy." At another point, he says, "I get happy but it doesn't last long." What is all this about? Sadly, we'll never know that either, at least not through this documentary -- Adams died from ALS shortly after the shooting was completed on the film.

Instead Adams's career is seen in bits and pieces. Adams is seen hitting the ground running in Vietnam, working with celebrities in his studio (what in hell is old Rod Steiger doing in tights and lifting a phony barbell?), setting up the Eddie Adams workshop in upstate New York, and Kiefer Sutherland reading snatches from Adams's journals.

Adams, one of the great American photojournalists, is more than deserving of a documentary tribute. Unfortunately, for all its good intentions, An Unlikely Weapon is not that documentary. But hopefully this film will spark a renewed interest in Adams' wide and varied photographic legacy, and for that it deserves all the success in the world.

Aka An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story.

The shot seen round the world.

Cast & Crew

Director : Susan Morgan Cooper

Producer : Susan Morgan Cooper, Cindy Lou Adkins

Starring : , Tom Brokaw, , , Bill Eppridge, Morely Safer, Nick Ut, , Peter Arnett


Comments

An Unlikely Weapon Rating

" Weak "

Rating: NR, 2008

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