A&E's ''Faith of My Fathers" is an old-fashioned portrait of a war hero. Based on the family memoir by Senator John McCain, it delivers a no-nonsense account of his five years spent enduring torture by North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War. It's filled with courage, American grit, fortitude, and manly sentiment.
And it's kind of perfunctory. The movie, which premieres tonight at 8, leaves too little room for the sort of psychological and moral complexity that is now essential to interesting war stories. With its simplistic definitions of heroism and glory, it rings loudly, but hollow. Shawn Hatosy makes a compelling lead presence as McCain, with his wide, unwavering eyes, but the script gives him little opportunity to give us a flesh-and-blood Navy pilot who's undergoing grueling psychological and physical abuse. He could have delivered the exact same stoical, exterior performance 50 years ago.
The best of ''Faith of My Fathers" closely follows McCain's years in prison, with grim scenes of him resisting despair and delusion in barren, dark cells, sometimes alone and sometimes with other POWs. These ''Midnight Express"-influenced sequences evoke horror, even while they insist on making McCain's skin a little too thick. The images of torture have an almost visceral impact, as we see McCain's captors kick his already wounded leg and hang him up for hours, and so do the joyous scenes in which McCain and a neighbor manage to communicate through a prison wall.
But the movie's narrative is sentimentalized by bland flashbacks from the prison to McCain's school days and his important relationship with his Navy admiral father Jack (played coolly by Scott Glenn). This material is a generic profile of how a young man learns the meaning of honor. We learn that the bond between father and son helped get McCain through the hard times; indeed, we barely glimpse his mother. But the bond is so tacit as to be invisible, which makes their scenes together rather stiff and unengaging. You may find yourself looking to the brief appearances by the only featured woman in the movie, Erin Cottrell as John's wife, Carol, for some kind of open display. But the script forbids her depth, too, it seems.
''Faith of My Fathers," directed by Peter Markle, is not a bad movie, and it won't bore you during its two-hour duration. It's just not good enough to convey the life of a real man.