The Vietnam War is a glaring black spot on the timeline of American history. The monstrous stupidity of going to war against a country so far away and an enemy so foreign is multiplied innumerable times when you consider the fact that the lives of so many promising young men were lost, all for abstract ideological supremacy. Mark Burman’s film Ambush echoes exactly this sentiment, all the while emphasizing the brutal hierarchy that emerges during wartime and the consequent devaluation of human lives. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Connor Paolo, Ambush is set in 1966 Vietnam, where, after the Viet Cong attack an American camp and get hold of a top-secret binder, a group of young, expendable engineers is sent into an underground tunnel system to retrieve the document within a window of two hours.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Ambush’?
General Drummond summons Captain Mora to tell him about a highly classified document. A binder containing the identities of all the Vietnamese individuals and organizations that are colluding with the American military has fallen into the hands of the Viet Cong. Non-retrieval of the said binder would mean that many assets helping the American military crush the Viet Cong would perish, which is why General Drummond had already sent two special forces to get the binder back to a nearby fire camp, a small outpost in the Quang Tri province. Mora’s responsibility now was to see to it that he ensured the destruction of the document. Drummond sends Crawford, a hyper masculine war vet, alongside Mora to carry out a “failsafe” operation in case things went awry.
The threat of an ambush loomed over the outpost. Whenever the Viet Cong realizes that the document has been taken away by the American military, they will not hesitate to attack in order to take it back. Mora arrives at the base in Quang Tri province alongside Crawford and finds it to be under the command of an enthusiastic young engineer, Corporal Ackerman.
Ackerman has gained a lot of experience compared to others, amounting to almost a year, but his youthful appearance makes him look unequipped to handle the pressures of leadership during wartime. Mora acts disdainfully surprised in front of Ackerman about him being the leader of the pack at the camp. Ackerman makes it clear that barring the special forces, everybody came under his command and that his job was to secure the area, which he had managed to do quite competently. Mora is as unimpressed with Ackerman as he is with all his amateur men. When Boyd, the youngest of the group, mistakenly fires his weapon, he wreaks havoc on him, showing Ackerman the imbeciles under his command and indirectly taking a jab at his place as a leader. Mora sends him away while waiting for the special forces to return with the binder, which is his actual priority.
Soon, two men named Cole and Eddy, part of one of the special forces sent into enemy territory, slither back to the camp, carrying the top-secret binder with them. Mora is delighted in this achievement as if it were his own and proceeds to phone General Drummond and tell him about the successful retrieval. The night falls, and Mora knows that the enemy can soon attack. Meanwhile, men under Ackerman question Ackerman’s leadership skills and feel that following his orders could get them killed. The next morning, Mora’s fear becomes a reality as the Viet Cong attack the base, killing 14 men. The special forces and Ackerman’s men fight valiantly and subdue the opponent, forcing them to retreat back into the jungles, but not before they take something very important with them.
The Binder Was Gone
Mora, upon hearing that the battle had begun, placed the binder in a box that could easily be accessed by anyone. The Viet Cong got hold of the box, and although they lost forty of their own men, they succeeded in walking away with the prized possession. Had Ackerman’s men seen Mora make this tactical blunder, they would have stopped feeling so safe following his orders. General Drummond uses a caustic tone with Mora after getting to know that the binder, which was painstakingly brought back by the special forces, had now fallen back into the hands of the enemy. Drummond decides to send in Lieutenant Colonel Miller, a seasoned operative, to help seize the binder. Miller arrives, and soon we realize that he is sent in to do the dirty work of helping Mora send Ackerman and his men to fight the enemy in an underground tunnel system made especially by the Viet Cong in order to engage in subterranean warfare with the Americans.
Ackerman and the men under his command were engineers, not suited for one-on-one combat. When Mora tells this to General Drummond, however, he quashes all concerns, for he could see retrieving the binder as his only priority. Crawford leaves with a huge amount of C4 dynamite and joins the whole platoon that has left the base. After a few minor encounters with the enemy, Miller soon finds an entrance into the underground labyrinth. He instructs Ackerman and his men to go along with Cole to map out the tunnels and find the binder within two hours while Miller and others wait on land. Ackerman does object sternly as to why it was his team that was to go down the tunnels, to which Miller answers in a sheer Machiavellian fashion that Ackerman’s group was the only competent group that could map out the tunnels.
The Labyrinth Of Death
The horror show began as Ackerman took his men down the narrow tunnels. Even though Cole, the soldier from the special forces, accompanied them, it didn’t mean they were guaranteed to come out alive. Navigation in the tunnel was nerve-wracking. The walls could be felt caving in, and the enemy could be found standing at the very next turn. Even in this harrowing situation, Ackerman shows his leadership abilities and decides to split the group up. Gledhil and Nevins follow Cole, while Ackerman leads Mera, Boyd, and Gates. Ensuring the proper mapping of the tunnels, the two teams proceed carefully, trying to spot the binder along the way. It isn’t long before men start going down one by one. Gledhil falls into a trap on sharp bamboo sticks, and Cole is attacked and killed by enemy soldiers. Poor Nevins runs away, hoping to reunite with Ackerman’s group.
Back at Ackerman’s end, he constantly provided support to his teammates, and even though he was under pressure, he never left anyone behind. The binder, however, still eluded him. When Nevins reunited with Ackerman’s group and told them about Cole and Gledhil’s fate, the panic button was pressed, as without Cole, who was supposed to be the soldier fighting the enemy, they thought they now had no chance of getting out alive. It is only Ackerman who, despite others panicking and questioning his navigation skills, keeps a steady head on his shoulders and continues mapping the tunnel. Finally, it looks as if they have made it. They had with them a document that could be the binder, and Ackerman had found an escape route leading up to the terrain. Miller and the rest intercept the enemies at the exit of the tunnel and take them down, but Mera gets shot. Ackerman comes out of the tunnel, thinking the job is done. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The mapping was accurate, but the recovered document wasn’t the binder everyone was after. Ackerman is instructed to head back once again into the deadly tunnels and carry on with his duty. He goes in, but not before making sure that Mera calmed down and survived, continuing on the path of a leader.
Crawford and his team joined Ackerman for the second time around. Ackerman is deliberately talked down by Crawford, who goes on a rant about Ackerman’s group being bait for Mora and Miller to take out enemy soldiers. It isn’t long before cocky Crawford is killed along with his team by the Viet Cong, and a grenade takes away the lives of Nevils and Gates, leaving only Ackerman and Boyd alive. With only half an hour to go before the stipulated two hours came to an end, it started to dawn on them that retrieving the binder was a suicide mission, and Crawford was indeed correct. The mission was to retrieve or destroy the binder, and failing to retrieve the top-secret document could mean that Mora would bury everybody alive. Everybody dead was as good a strategy for Mora as having that god-forsaken binder destroyed.
‘Ambush’ Ending Explained: How Did Ackerman Find The Top-Secret Document?
Ackerman now had to decide whether to endure further and try searching for the binder or leave the claustrophobic tunnels as soon as possible. His men had died trying to find the binder. Could he let their sacrifice go to waste? He wasn’t cut from that cloth, but he did have the responsibility of caring for Boyd, who had partially lost his hearing after the grenade attack. Ackerman and Boyd decided to search the tunnels for a maximum of twenty minutes, honoring the sacrifice of their peers, after which they would drop the search and leave the tunnel. Just before reaching the exits, Boyd finds the binder lying in a space being guarded by an enemy soldier. Ackerman distracts and fights him while Boyd successfully retrieves the binder. The two hours end, and Ackerman ends up injured and being helped by Boyd toward the nearest exit.
Back at the camp, Mora contacts General Drummond to inform him about the situation. Crawford had planted C4 explosives all around the terrain over the tunnels for exactly this situation. Although he was dead, it didn’t stop General Drummond from giving the orders to Mora to link the assignment to Miller, essentially commanding him to bury Ackerman and Boyd alive. Thanks to Boyd’s relentlessness, they both reach the exit before the dynamite goes off, closing the tunnels and making it the final resting place for Ackerman’s men. Boyd and Ackerman are accompanied by Miller’s company back to base, where Drummond, who was previously insistent on burying him alive, phones Ackerman to grace him with the gift of his voice for having brought the binder back, while Miller tears apart the pages of the document one by one, burning them into ashes. Aghast at this site, Ackerman pleads with Drummond not to let the heroic sacrifice of his men be dishonored in such a degrading way, to which he gets only platitudes from Drummond in reply, effectively rendering the whole operation meaningless from Ackerman’s perspective.