Brothers in Arms: The Story of the Crew of Patrol Craft Fast 94 sits in an awkward position as a documentary. It's a film that examines the experience of a group of individuals in the Vietnam War and afterwards, but since one of the men is a young John Kerry, the film takes on additional significance in the lead-in to the 2004 presidential election. Given the timing of the film's release on DVD, this is evidently intentional, but the film itself is not especially partisan: it's a fairly straightforward look at one aspect of Vietnam.
Brothers in Arms introduces us to the six men who served as the crew of a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta in 1969: Kerry and five others, who are as good a cross-section of U.S. life as you're likely to get. In the modern-day interview segments, we get to meet Kerry and four of his compatriots and hear them reminisce about the harrowing experiences that they shared as they navigated down the river, exposed to attack at any moment. The footage from Vietnam is nicely interpolated with the interview shots, giving us a real sense of what these men went through. Running only 68 minutes, Brothers in Arms is fairly short, but since it keeps a very tight focus on its subject, there's probably not a whole lot more it could have included.
Perhaps because of its title and enthusiastically red, white, and blue packaging, I expected Brothers in Arms to be a gung-ho pro-military, pro-U.S. government piece, but it manages to escape being pigeonholed as espousing any particular political point of view. The theme of Brothers in Arms is simply how a group of people who have nothing otherwise in common can forge a bond of friendship and loyalty that can last for years... in this case, for 35 years and counting.
The latter portion of Brothers in Arms focuses on how Kerry's military record came under scrutiny by the media during his senatorial re-election campaign; it's clear that one intent of the film is to "set the record straight" and reveal that the attacks on Kerry were groundless, by giving us the story of Kerry's service directly from his fellow soldiers. It's likely that this will cause Brothers in Arms to be labeled as "campaign propaganda" by opponents of Kerry, but that would be doing a disservice to a film that's more interested in examining what the Vietnam experience meant for a sampling of the men who were sent to fight there.
As it's a mix of archival footage from the Vietnam war and current-day interviews, Brothers in Arms naturally has uneven image quality. Overall, though, it looks quite decent. The archival footage is soft and blurry, but in reasonably good condition, and the interview footage is crisp and clean. Brothers in Arms is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is more than sufficient for this documentary. The voices of the interview subjects are always clear and easy to understand.
Several special features are included, although they don't amount to a whole lot. A text director's statement gives some background to the project; we also get a photo gallery, crew and production staff biographies, and a set of trailers for other First Run Features DVDs.
There's not a whole lot of material presented in Brothers in Arms, which runs slightly over one hour in length, but viewers who are interested in either the Vietnam War or the career of Senator John Kerry will likely find it to be moderately interesting viewing. Rent it.