This standard-issue documentary profiles the late photographer Eddie Adams, best known for his Pulitzer-winning image of a South Vietnamese general’s point-blank execution of a Vietcong prisoner in 1968. Adams would come to regret the photo’s notoriety, and he blames himself for ruining the life of the general (who would go on to run a pizzeria in Virginia). Such hand-wringing will doubtless seem excessive to many liberal-minded viewers, but Adams’s lingering guilt does serve to deepen the picture of him as the gruff man’s man described by colleagues and friends such as news anchorman Tom Brokaw—a portrait that had been teetering on the edge of Hemingway-esque stereotype.
The second half of An Unlikely Weapon is more diffuse and consequently less effective, glossing over Adams’s later career, which included covers for publications ranging from Time to Penthouse (“before it became really raunchy,” he explains). The film feels padded even at 85 minutes, but it does effectively bring home the extent to which the infamous image continued to haunt the shutterbug, even decades later. Recalling a shoot with Clint Eastwood, Adams notes that the movie star was the one who first told him that the photo had inspired the Russian-roulette scene in The Deer Hunter—a movie that Adams apparently hated.