TV Preview

'Faith of My Fathers': In Principle, a Noble Effort

Shawn Hatosy as prisoner of war John McCain in the mediocre A& E movie.
Shawn Hatosy as prisoner of war John McCain in the mediocre A& E movie. (By Patti Perret)
By Marcia Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 30, 2005

Few politicians enjoy instant credibility, that reflexive respect and deference we offer when we know the person before us has far deeper knowledge of a particular topic. When that person speaks, we listen.

Maybe it's because that kind of credibility is often hard-won, rooted in great loss or great sacrifice.

Georgia's Rep. John Lewis, with his civil rights battle scars, has it.

Former Kansas senator Bob Dole has it, his World War II-damaged arm a constant reminder.

And when it comes to prisoners of war, it's Sen. John S. McCain we turn to. When those first pictures of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib turned up, the news media went to the Arizona Republican, a Navy fighter pilot who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. McCain endured solitary confinement, routine beatings and on occasion "imaginative" torture, such as being strung up for hours by ropes tightened around his biceps.

Credibility, for sure.

Tonight at 8, A&E Network premieres "Faith of My Fathers," the cable channel's original movie about McCain's prison ordeal. The film, being released as Memorial Day fare, is based on the senator's much more nuanced 1999 memoir of the same title. That book, co-written by Mark Salter, McCain's chief of staff, was published as McCain was gearing up for his 2000 presidential bid. But McCain's story is a dramatic one and worth knowing, whether it's released in book form just in time for a presidential bid or as a cable network movie just in time for a national holiday.

A&E's movie does a serviceable job, covering with the broadest of strokes the brutality McCain experienced, the friendships with fellow prisoners that he credits with saving his life, and the family legacy that led him to become a naval officer in the first place. And though the majority of the scenes are from the prison years, the movie uses flashbacks to try to convey the core truths of McCain's life.

· We learn that the Navy, and war, are the McCain family business. Both grandfather and father, John McCain Sr. and McCain Jr., are four-star admirals.

· We also see the young McCain as a bit of a rascal and a poor student at the Naval Academy (finishing fifth from the bottom of his class), but determined to live up to the family code and his legacy: of honor, duty and country.

· We see him later as the young man in flight school in Pensacola, Fla., who is just wild enough to date an exotic dancer. (McCain notes in his book that her stage name was the "Flame of Florida.")

· And we see him meet the woman who becomes his first wife.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company