War is hell in more ways than one, as seen in Home Box
Office's A Bright Shining Lie. And sometimes, the aftermath is hellish, too,
as shown in Showtime's Thanks of a Grateful Nation.
Both fact-based dramas are powerful, as their characters
struggle with different kinds of frustration. Grateful Nation provokes sadness, as
former Gulf War veterans fight an uphill battle with government bureaucracy to gain
recognition of -- much less compensation for -- their toxin-caused medical woes. Shining
Lie provokes anger, as we watch one officer try to convince his superiors how to win
the Vietnam War.
In a sense, Grateful Nation links the two wars, such
as when one character observes that "Desert Storm Syndrome" is "Agent
As a Vietnam-era veteran whose lucky break kept him from
being shipped into the war zone, I connected more with HBO's drama, as Bill
Paxton's John Vann becomes outspoken about the deceit surrounding battle reports and
body counts by Vietnamese officers. Ultimately, in 1972, Vann -- despite prodding by a
reporter friend, played by Donal Logue -- seems to lose sight of his 1960s belief that
this war is about the people more than the warriors. (Vann is less idealistic in his
personal life, wrecking his family with his womanizing.)
Shining Lie's standouts are Paxton's and
Logue's portrayals and the use of Thailand as an authentic-looking substitute for
Grateful Nation, after a slow start and some awkward
segues from scene to scene -- and, oddly, precious little of its more than three hours
spent on the battlefield -- offers several noteworthy performances, led by former sitcom
stars Ted Danson (Cheers) and Steven Weber (Wings). Danson, playing a
senator's liaison on defense issues, makes some unsettling discoveries along the way,
while Weber shows that the issue involves more than the military, since he's a
civilian who helped with the postwar cleanup.
Also strong are Brian Dennehy, Marg Helgenberger and
Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Shining Lie is faster-paced, whereas Grateful Nation's
dramatic flow is slowed by the producers' inserting documentarylike talking-head
recollections of real veterans.
HBO's ShiningLie is due May 30 at 9
p.m. (EST), and Showtime's Grateful Nation May 31 at 8 p.m.