Ambush review

Initially, Ambush seems content to just reenact a Vietnam movie’s greatest hits.

Barely 30 seconds pass after a soldier announces he’s a short-timer before he’s gunned down. The commanding officer speaks in histrionics to his rattled troops while the general sets up a contingency plan if the operation fails.

But just when it seems like Ambush is totally fine marking off the Nam era movie checklist, it goes down a far more interesting path to become a subterranean war thriller.

A small US outpost, manned largely by a squad of very young engineers, is attacked before the successful handoff of a binder containing highly classified intel.

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Gen. Drummond (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) can’t let the Viet Cong retain the binder long and dispatches some of his best men to retrieve it.

Since time is of the essence, Drummond can’t send a full retrieval squad forcing his right-hand man Capt. Mora (Gregory Sims) to rely on the inexperienced and out of their element engineer crew under the command of Ackerman (Connor Paolo, World Trade Center).

Mora does get some capable aid from tracker Miller (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Tudors), a somewhat aloof, but very effective at his tasks.

Director/co-writer Mark Earl Burman doesn’t waste time getting to the action. The first firefight has appreciable intensity even if some of the gunfire effects and explosions reflect the limited budget.

A second one helps delivering the message that danger is around every potential clearing or open area.

Miller discovers the VC’s mode of ambush — a labyrinth of underground tunnels — and Mora splits the group. Ackerman and his expendable engineers get tunnel duty while Miller and his crew are tasked with flushing out anyone who emerges.


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Ackerman is naive enough to believe his group’s mission is to chart the tunnels. While rightfully worried about entering this perilous environment, Ackerman puts on a brave face to lead his squad with the vain hope of getting everyone back out alive.

Burman makes the tunnels appropriately claustrophobic and that’s before introducing threats like trap door booby traps and poisonous insects beyond VC troops lurking any and everywhere. Wisely, Burman doesn’t go for cheap thrills with jump scares instead creating genuine uneasiness with well-timed payoffs to tense scenarios.

Cinematographer Dan Frantz bathes the tunnels in orange and red lighting with occasional slivers of daylight peering in.


Eckhart and Meyers provide Ambush with star power, but not lengthy performances. Meyers’ Miller is in the trenches with the cast while Eckhart is isolated in a small set that makes him seem far away from the action in more ways than one.

This could have made for a disappointing development were it not for the terrific work from the main performers led by Paolo.

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Paolo nails all the levels of Ackerman’s apprehension, confusion and terror of being in a war zone fighting to be the rock for his squad.

Other standouts include Jason Genao as the deeply terrified Boyd; Patrick Walker as the calm and steady Gates and Nick Heyman as the rattled Nevins. Their performances avoid feeling like caricatures as they react to the events like real people instead of actors pretending to be soldiers.

This helps as their fellow soldiers start falling one by one in the tunnels alongside them.

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Burman pulls off some stellar close quarter combat sequences. Those are some of the film’s best scenes as they convey the desperate his life or mine struggle for a momentary advantage.

Ambush doesn’t revolutionize the Nam movie experience, but it’s impressively staged with action scenes that work within the budget while leaning heavily on its cast to tell an engaging and unique story.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Photo Credit: Saban Films