My Favourite War Movie Character or The Ultimate Sacrifice

To determine who is your favourite war movie character is a very, very subjective thing. At least for me. No objectivity here. It is neither linked to the fact if I do consider the movie he´s in to be outstanding or average, it doesn´t say anything about the acting in itself, I really only think of the character. And, yeah well maybe it has something to do with the fact that the role is played by one of my favourite actors.

What I loved about this character is his goodness. In all the horror that surrounds him, he stays good. Nothing compromises him, nothing turns him into an inhuman being devoid of feelings or compassion. And in the end he doesn´t shy away from sacrificing himself. He is the ultimate war movie hero, hero through his sacrifice not through his killings.

And yes, I alluded to him in another post (Christ and the War Movie Hero). My favourite character is Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) in Platoon. And yes, I´m sure it´s no coincidence that he was later chosen to play Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ. He´s been my favourite for many years now and I only wavered once, after having seen When Trumpets Fade where we see another sacrificial hero.

Kokoda, 39th Battalion (2006) or The Australians´ Fight in the Pacific

Kokoda 39th Battalion is an Australian movie by Alister Grierson and tells another story that took place in the Pacific during WWII. Only this time we don´t watch Americans fight for the Australians (as they do, amongst oher things, in the miniseries The Pacific), but the Australians themselves. The Kokoda trail on Papua New Guinea is the main trail that leads directly to Port Moresby. By means of this trail the Japanese were planning to arrive at Port Moresby and from there an invasion of Australia would have been easy.

Obviously the Australians did everything to prevent this. The 39th battalion who is in the center of this movie was essentially a battalion of untrained volunteers. The central story focuses on two brothers who joined this battalion together.

The opening of the movie shows us a sequence of still lives that are very beautiful. Pictures of fauna and flora of the island. After that we see what has to be interpreted as premonition like dream of  Jack, one of the two brothers. This is somewhat an exaggeration of what the terrain was like. Same as in episode 4 of The Pacific there is a constant rain, and the terrain gets muddier and muddier. Jack slips and is almost drowning in mud. In the end he looks like some almost amphibian prehistoric creature. Those first ten minutes make you believe you might watch a film like The Thin Red Line with a lot of flashback elements, daydreams but that is, as you soon realise, not the case. From that moment on Kokoda turns into Hamburger Hill, meaning heavy jungle infantry combat.

The men are surrounded by Japanese soldiers whose camouflage is so much more efficient than their own, whose fighting experience is outstanding, and whose cruelty, as the movie wants to make us believe, is beyond imagination.

This was one of the movies that made me think again and again: Why war? Why did that happen? Why did it have to happen. The efforts of the Australians seem so futile, that even though they won in the end, there is nothing noble in all this. It´s just horrible and hard to watch.

I first thought that this was an average movie but the overall atmosphere is so intense, the desperate fight of these badly trained men is so well depicted that I think it´s quite a good movie that I would recommend you´d watch. And, most important, the pictures of the dense forest and the instances of cruelty in the middle of the jungle aren´t easily forgotten and stay in your mind long after you´ve watched it.

Yes, it´s biased, the Japanese are shown as beastly monsters but still.

Furthermore it tells a quite soulful story of the deep bond between brothers.

DVD on Amazon

The Man Who Cried (2000)

This is such a gorgeous movie by Sally Potter,  starring Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Christina Ricci and John Turturro.

Love story and survival story. Tale about friendship, ode to music. A very rich movie with beautiful pictures and an extraordinary soundtrack.

It reminds us that the jews were not the only ones who have  been persecuted and exterminated during WWII.

We tend to forget that the gypsies were also victims of the holocaust.

The Soldier Who Couldn´t Kill: Dave in the Lighthorsemen (1987)

Apart from being one of the rare movies about cavalry combat this movie depicts a very interesting problem: The soldier who can´t kill. This is interesting in many ways. Sure it is commonly acknowledged that killing at war and killing in peace time is not the same. While one qualifies as simple killing, the other is said to be murder. You never hear anyone say about a soldier that he “murdered” enemies. He killed them. No judgement here, just a fact. Now what about the soldier himself? Is this really just “killing” for him, a justified way of taking someone else´s life? I don´t think so. Many soldiers suffer from nightmares when back from war and often, one of the elements they dream about, is the enemies they killed coming after them. Undoubtedly they feel guilty. Pacifists all over the planet will agree with them.

Dave in The Lighthorsmen is a good hunter in civil life. He knows how to handle a weapon, he is able to aim and shoot. But he is incapable of killing.

You don´t see that very often in war movies.

De Niro in Jacknife (1989)Part II

Often when you ask someone  who is their favourite actor especially men tend to name Robert de Niro. Surely his merits are undisputable still he did get on my nerves in several of his films since he´s got the habit of overacting and that way tends to turn into a parody of himself. I thought I´d seen many of his movies and knew that he was at least in two Vietnam related ones, The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver. Somehow Jacknife sneakily escaped my attention.

I saw it recently and must say, it would have been a pity not to see  it and this for several reasons. (Check out the trailer in an older post).

First, I think, it is one of de Niros´ best performances, second I think it is a very good attempt at showing the theme of the Vietnam vet. Post traumatic stress and so forth.

Megs (de Niro) and Dave (Ed Harris) served in Vietnam together. They hadn´t seen each other for a while when suddenly, out of the blue, Megs invades Dave´s home to take him on a fishing trip. Unfortunately he realises he´s less than welcome. Dave showing every sign of full-blown alcoholism still blames Megs for the death of Bobby, the third guy they went to Vietnam with.

Megs tries everything to cheer up Dave but fails completely. The fact that Megs begins a relationship with  Martha (Kathy Baker), Dave´s sister doesn´t exactly improve anything.

Even though at first it looks as things were not going well at all, Megs´ likeable character, his outgoing, eccentric ways liven up the brother and sister and ultimately transform them profoundly. The story is interwoven with flashbacks that show what went wrong in Vietnam where Megs was by far too gung-ho and shooting way too fast at everything.

Sure, these are personal stories, character studies, no analyzing of the war as such or its political and social impact.

I just adored de Niro in this and understood again why so many think he´s one of the best actors alive.

Vietnam War Movies by Jamie Russell (2002)

This useful little book is one of the pocketessential film series books.

It´s dedicated to Vietnam War Movies only.

The movies are ordered by themes:

Combat Movie The Green Berets, The Boys in Company C, Go Tell the Spartans, Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket, BAT21, Saigon, 84 Charlie MoPic, Casualties of War, Tigerland

Vet Movie Billy Jack, The Visitors, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, The Exterminator, First Blood, Gardens of Stone, Jacknife, Distant Thunder, Born on the 4th of July, In Country

Drugs and Surrealism Tracks, Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Now Redux, Good Morning Vietnam, Air America, Jacob´s Ladder

Counter-culture and protest movement The Activist, Letter to Jane, Hearts and Minds, Coming Home, Running on Empty, Rude Awakening, Dogfight, Forrest Gump

1980s return to Nam Good Guys Wear Black, Uncommon Valor, Missing in Action, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Eye of the Eagle

Telling a different story Heroes Shed no Tears, Dear America: Letters home from Vietnam, Bullet in the Head, Turtle Beach, Heaven & Earth, Cyclo

Each movie is summarized, cast and crew are named, some background and sub-text information is given and the movie is rated as well.

Home of the Brave (2006) or When a movie really fails

Home of the Brave is about a group of soldiers who came under heavy attack shortly before being sent home. After their return they try to cope with what they have been through. They all fail to some extent before they realise they need psychological help.

What a bad, bad, bad movie! I´m embarrassed I watched it. Worst acting ever. Ridiculous dialogue, dragging storyline, wrong cast, pathetic music…

And yet, there are a lot of people who like this movie and say: that´s exactly how it was.

I don´t doubt for one sec, that this is how it was. I don´t doubt for one sec that the returning soldiers need medication, treatment, can´t make their relatives understand, despair, start to drink, get violent, blame everyone including themselves and the government.

Fine. But DO NOT show a message like this in such a way. After a while you start to wonder, why there is not a constant voice in the off telling you: ha…that was impressive, ha…see how horrible, ha….start to blame the government and now ha….

This doesn´t work. It´s like someone telling you a joke and immediately explaining you afterwards why it was funny.

The opening is quite similar to many other opening scenes of movies located in Iraq, be it Battle for Haditha, Stop-Loss or any other. But the similarity is a purely exterior one. The acting is too bad to actually induce feeling. The convoy gets ambushed, people die and get mutilated. And all this happens after we have been told that exactly these people are about to go back home. This is repeated so many times that the thickest moviegoer starts to scratch his head thinking: Are they telling me something here? Fate playing tricks is an old theme in war movies, after all it´s one of life´s themes, but usually it is handled with more subtlety.

Next thing, they are all back home. One has lost his best friend, one (a doctor) had to amputate many limbs, one had her hand amputated and now they start to struggle and stumble and fail like the movie.

Sad. They meant well. They wanted to tell us: This should not happen. America shouldn´t meddle. This is not WWII. We won´t get statues and memorials and see people with tears in their eyes still thanking us years later. No, they hate us, they want us out and if we don´t get it, they shoot us up.

A few final words on the actors.

Jessica Biel: Very bad start but then okish.

Samuel L. Jackson: He can’t really be very bad, can he? No, unless he unconvincingly tries to play a drunk. But he has his moments still.

Brian Presley: Who´s that geek? He´d be good in a movie like My Beautiful Laundrette. But only for the looks. Talentwise it´s rather… well…any bad series. Whatever.

Chad Michael Murray: How to get shot and look ridiculous at it. He should keep on making series like  One Tree Hill (not that I´d watch that) or movies like Cinderella Story.

50Cent:  Mumble, mumble, mumble or How do I act without having the tiniest facial muscle move.

Christina Ricci: What the heck were you thinking accepting this role?

The only good thing was the movie´s attempt at showing that medication is no solution to trauma and consequential sleeplessness. It´s in the end no better than drinking. You can´t ignore the trauma, you can´t block it, you have to accept it and  talk about it.