With the United States immured in another unpopular foreign entanglement that reminds many of the Vietnam War, the timing could not be more apropos for David Zeiger's new Vietnam documentary "Sir! No Sir!" Looking to tell the story of American G.I.s who protested the war, in some cases even refusing to serve, Zeiger has tapped into a fascinating, mostly unfamiliar vein of the Vietnam era. It is too bad, then, that "Sir! No Sir!" is a hodgepodge, a jumble of short segments on individual soldiers and events that vary widely in quality and relevance.
Zeiger runs through a varied history of American soldiers' struggle against the war machine, ranging from opening coffeehouses to writing newspapers to serving jail sentences for their beliefs. Most of the interviewees selected are thoughtful and judicious in their choice of words, as if they had spent a lifetime waiting to reflect on their actions during that troubled time. "Sir! No Sir!" does a very good job of choosing photographs, newspaper headlines and film footage to underscore the events and ideas under discussion, and plasters the entire film with a thumping score of psychedelic rock. But the film's haphazard editing not only fails to place emphasis in the right places, it resolutely emphasizes the least intriguing material, spending precious minutes on an absurdly drawn-out discussion of the legendary spit-upon returning vet, and the health troubles of a prosecuted G.I.
Far more troubling than its poor editing, however, is the film's seeming blindness to its own political motivations. Actress and one-time Vietcong supporter Jane Fonda is one of the interviewees here, presented as just another dissenting voice. Likewise, the fall of Saigon and the entry of the merciless Communist true believers of the Vietcong is presented here as a joyous, celebratory event, marked by cheering women and waving flags. In seeking to express its outrage over the Vietnam War, "Sir! No Sir!" loses its moral compass, conflating dissidence and traitorousness, and confusing friends with the enemies of their enemies.