Tag: war

Hacksaw Ridge


Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

His superiors and fellow soldiers believe there is no room for a conscientious objector in the army. After all, how could a person who is opposed to violence able to protect and serve alongside his fellow men in the face of war when such an individual wouldn’t even pick up a gun, not even to practice how to load one, let alone shoot one? So, hoping he’d leave training, they intimidated him, put their hands on him, court-martialed him. Still, they couldn’t rid of him. His name is Demond Doss (Andrew Garfield) and he wishes to serve as a medic in the U.S. Army during World War II. He ended up saving 75 lives—including of those who put in the effort to get rid of him out of fear that he would only serve as a liability.

“Hacksaw Ridge,” based on a true story adapted to the screen by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight, is a war picture that engrosses the heart and mind from the moment it begins until the actual footages of the survivors are shown. Although there is gripping action in which not one moment is wasted, most important is that we understand the subject fully: his religion and his beliefs—the writers make the correct decision to take the time to unspool the difference—and why Doss feels the need to participate in a war that he doesn’t necessarily support from a moral standpoint. This is a film for people who appreciate nuance.

War sequences are intense, thrilling, and horrifying. Several images stick in the mind like gum. For instance, a soldier using a fellow soldier’s upper torso, completely detached from its lower half, as a shield against rapid-fire bullets; flamethrowers being used on the enemy as if the latter were simply roaches to be exterminated; Doss scouring the ridge at night for broken men long after his allies have retreated… while the Japanese are on the lookout for American survivors, wishing to finish them off.

Mel Gibson directs the picture with a keen eye and fresh perspective. There are numerous excellent war pictures, some from America and many around the world, and yet I believe he is able to put a stamp on why this story is worth telling. He personalizes it. For example, notice how there is a very limited number of times where a bird’s-eye view is utilized to depict conflict—certainly less than five. This technique works because by choosing not to pull out of the action, increasingly we feel as though we are one of the soldiers. When someone gets shot in the chest, when a grenade goes off from less than fifteen away, when someone’s face is blown off, we experience the complete horror. Once violence starts, it does not allow us to take a break from the action.

There is a weakness in the film, which I find to be negligible because everything else functions on a high level, and it is in the portrayal of Desmond’s personal life, making up the first act. While scenes at home serve to provide some of the subject’s background information, particularly possible reasons why Desmond is against practicing violence, the parents (Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths) leave a lot to be desired in terms of a full, well-realized characterization. A similar criticism can be applied to the girlfriend named Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). The performers are up to the task but the material does not give these characters enough depth. As a result, the parents and the girlfriend are somewhat interesting but they do not turn out to be compelling.

Yet despite this shortcoming, “Hacksaw Ridge” is essential viewing because it is able to capture one man’s heroism, without turning him into a Christ figure despite his belief in God, amidst the bleakness of war. Unlike some terrible war movies or movies about war, this particular story is composed of different notes as opposed to simply delivering a hopeful story or, worse, propaganda in sheep’s clothing. Broken down to its most basic element, the film, I think, is about one man’s morality—we may not agree with him completely but we walk in his shoes regardless.

The Thin Red Line


The Thin Red Line (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★

An AWOL soldier, Private Witt (James Caviezel), had never been good at following orders. When ordered to go left, he turned right. But when he was found in a Malaysian island by 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn), Pvt. Witt, as punishment, was assigned to be a stretcher bearer in the Battle of Guadalcanal. The attack was led by Capt. James Staros (Elias Koteas) and his superior Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte). The former wouldn’t obey the latter’s orders because he believed that sending his men forward was suicide. The Japanese bunkers were too far and too hidden for a typical affront. Lt. Col. Tall wasn’t convinced. Based on the autobiographical novel by James Jones and beautifully directed by Terrence Malick, “The Thin Red Line” was fascinating because it combined the horrors of war with spirituality. We were given the chance to hear a soldier’s thoughts, American and Japanese, about his place in the world, trepidation in terms of facing his mortality, and the loved ones he left behind. While the action scenes were raw and unflinching, I was most impressed with the way the soldiers played the hand they’ve been given. Some made rookie but dire mistakes out of panic (Woody Harrelson), some succumbed in fear and would rather be invisible (Adrien Brody), while others were distracted by flashbacks, wondering whether someone was still waiting for them at home (Ben Chaplin). The film highlighted that war was not as simple as two sides fighting for a cause. In a way, the battlefield was a glorious arena in which we had to fight ourselves. While good soldiers trusted their instincts, orders, too, must be obeyed. The conflict between instinct and duty could break a man. I was most interested in Pvt. Witt because he looked at his enemies with serenity. Unlike his comrades, not once did he show hatred toward the soldiers on the opposite side of the mountain. I wondered why. If I was in his position, I’m not quite sure if I could look at my enemies as if they were my equal. I would probably see them as lower animals and treat them as such. I just don’t think I can be as forgiving if I knew that my friends and comrades died because of them. Pvt. Witt mentioned that “maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of, all faces are the same man.” Malick used images to underline man’s place in nature. There were zen-like shots of soldiers just sitting around and admiring, for example, a plant. It took them out of the situation, even for just a few seconds, until the voice of their leader urged them to go on. There were several shots of birds, flying in sky or dying on the ground, which symbolized either glory or pain. “The Thin Red Line” was sensitive and intelligent. It tried to find answers in a place where answers were as transient as they were permanent.

Paths of Glory


Paths of Glory (1957)
★★★★ / ★★★★

In World War I, a French general (Adolphe Menjou) ordered his men to make their way through German fires and seize the Ant Hill from the enemy. General Broulard thought such an action would be the key to victory and his glory. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) rebelled against the idea because he knew it would be a suicide mission, but since he was lower in the ranks, he had no choice but to lead his men in the attempt. In the thick of battle, some of the troops refused to leave their trenches and in doing so resulted to the failure in capturing the coveted Ant Hill. General Broulard, in blind fury, decided to make an example of the troops, a lesson in the repercussion of cowardice, by selecting three random men (Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel, and Richard Anderson) to be assassinated through a firing squad. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, “Paths of Glory” surprised me in many ways. It was a moving story because it dealt with humanity’s place in the chaos of war and the powers that controlled or motivated them. There was a divide between the good and the bad. The good were the troops miserably placed in those trenches as they endured the flying bullets and the explosions of the grenades. They saw their friends meet their demise in one incorrect move or a major miscalculation by their officers. The officers were the bad. They enjoyed parties, dancing, and eating succulent meals in elegantly decorated rooms. They discussed about their triumphs in the battlefield despite the fact that they observed from a distance. When they did visit the trenches, they exuded an air of confidence; when a soldier expressed his fear about the war, he deserved to be slapped around like a child or an animal. Kubrick knew the importance of images and he used such contrasting elements to make a powerful anti-war statement. As we plunged into the battlefield, all we could distinctly hear were the firing of the guns, men’s bodies hitting the ground, and yells to improve morale or perhaps to mask their fear of death. The extended scene in which the troops made their way toward enemy lines was especially memorable. The director framed the scene in such a way that it felt like we were there with the dispensable men. One way I could describe it was like being stuck in the middle of two big waves in the ocean. There was anticipation mixed with a sense of panic and dread amidst the heavy confusion. I would most likely have stayed in the trenches as well if I was one of those soldiers. The last scene with the German woman singing and the soldiers joined in was a very touching moment and it was a perfect way to end an ultimately tragic reflected reality. “Paths of Glory” is a great example of how powerful war pictures can be. Indeed, a great leader is defined by the way he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

The Deer Hunter


The Deer Hunter (1978)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) decided to enlist in the Army to go to Vietnam and fight for American ideals. The film was divided into three sections: the innocence prior to the war, the three friends’ participation in the war, and how the characters viewed their hometown after they returned from war. Initially, I didn’t understand why the picture felt the need to focus on a wedding for a running time of about an hour. I felt as though it simply wanted to be an epic movie by being three hours long. But once our protagonists reached Vietnam and realized that going war for something they did not fully understand was their most critical misstep, the events that transpired during the wedding felt necessary. It served as a mirror so that, as active viewers, we were able to understand how deep certain friendships ran, the rivalry between Michael and Nick over the girl-next-door Linda (Meryl Streep), and, despite the guys having a strong connection to their Russian culture, they were true Americans and we should not blame them for wanting to, despite not fully weighing the pros and cons, defend our country for reasons they thought was right. As the film went on, it became more powerful because it had a solid grasp of tension, the suspense in terms of the picture’s imagery and the friction between the characters. In the middle portion, I felt an overwhelming sadness when Michael, Steven and Nick were captured and forced to play Russian roulette. The way they worked as a team to escape the Vietnamese was nail-biting because they knew, as well as we did, they were as good as dead if they continued to play by the rules. The scene in which the three of them sailed down the river using a dead tree was one of those images that would remain in my mind for a long time. Toward the end, I felt almost numb because the men who managed to come back to their hometown, although more complex because they were more experienced, felt almost hollow because they could not relate to the people around them. There were classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder but I admired the fact that it was shown in sublte way. Another image that I was able to extract myriads meaning from was when Michael chose not to shoot a deer when he had a chance. To me, Michael saw the animal as a symbol for freedom–something that he felt was out of his reach (and will always be out of his reach) even though he was, arguably, able to return home as a whole. Directed by Michael Cimino, “The Deer Hunter” is an atypical war picture because it focused more on the personal struggles instead of the horror of being surrounded by flying bullets and explosions. It argued that returning home could feel just as dangerous as standing alone in the battlefield.

Patton


Patton (1970)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off with General George Patton Jr. (George C. Scott) delivering a speech about war and the importance of winning being embedded in the American culture with the gigantic United States flag on the background. It was probably one of the most patriotic scenes I’ve seen portrayed on screen, but at the same time I felt that the picture was making fun of itself. The scene aimed to establish our main character: He was intimidating because he was obsessed with discipline and excellence. His reputation as being one of the feared generals, especially by the Nazis, was well-earned because he was an uncompromising man. Fear sometimes generates respect. The film was beautifully shot. In war pictures, I find it uncommon that I notice the environment because, to me, at least with the more recent war movies I’ve seen, the environ is simply a template where we get to see bombs exploding like there’s no tomorrow. But in “Patton,” I found the second scene outstanding because it featured a peaceful landscape in the Arabian desert where American soldiers’ bodies laid lifeless as Arabian people stole the soldiers’ clothes and other belongings. Again, there was the theme of duality. On one hand, it was sad to see those dead and rotting soliders. On the other hand, we could look at the Arabian people and see that looting was their chance for survival because they obviously didn’t have much. The film is different than other war movies. With “Patton,” we don’t follow any soldier in the battlefield or realize any of his personal struggles. It simply followed the general during his glory days as he tried to compete against British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (Michael Bates), attempted to outsmart German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler), his probation because he slapped a soldier around for complaining about being afraid of the sounds of war, up until he regained his footing in the military. Throughout his journey, we learned so much about him such as his passion for poetry and penchant for history. The latter was his strength but at the same time it was his weakness. His enemies who didn’t know much about history often lost but those who were knowledgeable thought Patton was predictable and almost pretentious. Naturally, his strongest enemies were the ones who were just as smart as him. No one can argue against Patton’s biggest weakness being his mouth. He had no filter; he didn’t think he needed one so he was prone to saying the most inappropriate things during the most inopportune time. “Patton,” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and partly written by Francis Ford Coppola, won seven Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actor) not only because of its epic scale but also because of its small details that made this biopic all the more personal.

Grave of the Firelies


Grave of the Firelies (1988)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The opening scene depicted the death of Seita (voiced by Tsutomu Tatsumi) when Japan finally surrendered at the end of World War II. His story of struggle with his little sister (Ayano Shiraishi) was elegantly told in flashback. They tried to survive by themselves because their father was in the Navy, their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara) passed away because a fire-bombing raid, and their aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi) outwardly expressed that the two of them were a burden since they did not do their share in providing for the household. “Hotaru no haka” is a sublime example of anime transcending animated stories told in a fantastic scope and science fiction. It was able to tell a human story that was very real, tragic and heartbreaking as Seita did his best to keep his sister away from truths that were difficult to digest. Of course, he ended up unsuccessful in the end but the heart of the film was his attempt to construct distractions so that his sister would not think about their parents and the prospect that they, too, could die. Although we saw planes bombing Japanese towns, I liked that the siblings’ main source of struggle was their relationship with other Japanese people. Since everything was rationed, mostly everyone was out for themselves and their own families. Food and shelter were rare and money became irrelevant. Bartering drove the economy which was a problem because the two kids had barely anything to barter with in the first place. There was a complexity in their society’s situation. I did not necessarily see them as “bad people” because I probably would have done the same thing if I was in their shoes. I also admired the fact that Isao Takahata, the director, did not shy away from showing dead, mangled, and rotten bodies. When I saw this film in high school, I remember being shocked at the images because at the time I had not seen an animated movie that mirrored reality so closely. One of the most resonant scenes for me was when Seita glanced over at his mother’s badly burned body. His facial and body expression suggested that he did not at all recognized his mother but deep inside he felt that it was her and she was soon going to die. Just as quickly, he realized he had no choice but to be strong for his sister until their father came for them. “Grave of the Firelies,” based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, had power that made me feel so sad even after a few days since I’ve seen it. I was haunted with what Seita and his sister had been through but at the same time I was thankful that I did not live through those times. Even more impressive, the movie was a war film that did not place blame on any one nation but instead highlighted individual responsiblity in times of war.

The Men Who Stare at Goats


The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

After being recently heartbroken, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) decided to go with a self-proclaimed psychic-soldier-slash-Jedi-warrior (George Clooney) to Iraq so that he could publish a mind-blowing story and prove to himself that he was not a loser. However, Wilton quickly realized that maybe the man he was with was just a charlatan and there really was no compelling story that could be written. Adapted from Jon Ronson’s book and directed by Grant Heslov, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was certainly not as bad as people claimed it was upon its release because the satire involving American soldiers and reporters worked on some level. Given the strange material, I thought it was refreshing even though some of the jokes didn’t quite work and the story could have been more focused. For me, I’d rather watch something that takes a lot of risks even though it doesn’t work rather than watch something typical that only occasionally works. I found the scenes with McGregor and Clooney the least interesting part of the film. I wanted to know more about Clooney’s experiences in the paranormal sector of the army in its early days (during the war in Vietnam), the person he greatly looked up to (Jeff Bridges), and his rival (Kevin Spacey) who would do anything to be the best. Even though the things they did were undeniably weird such as trying to defeat the enemy with friendship, flowers and the like, I was interested in the characters because they had great conviction in what they were doing. Personally, I think what the characters tried to do were not that extraordinary because there were times in history when other countries turned to paranormal studies (like mind control and science verging on the extremes like trying to bring people back to life) to remain one step ahead of their enemies. But it’s understandable that not many people liked the film because not everyone understands satire and some of the humor was dry and deadpan. Maybe if the picture tried to connect more with the audience, the audience would have liked it more. The movie also didn’t feel like a hollistic project but a series of scenes that were quirky which didn’t add up to anything substantial. Acting-wise, I thought everyone was consistently strong, especially Clooney. Despite his character’s goofiness, somehow I believed in his wild stories and got the feeling that he was much smarter than he let on. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was a cerebral experience more than anything and it would appeal most to those willing to read between the lines. Commentaries such as politics, war and duty were abound but they were far from obvious. Ultimately, I’m glad I gave this movie a chance.