War Movies Set During the Roman Empire: A List

 Rome

It’s time once more for a little list. This time it’s a topic that I’m not only quite familiar with but also a topic that I enjoy a lot.

From  a purist point of view the movies on this list are not strictly speaking war movies but I have decided a while back that there is not much fun in being a purist. The only movie on the list that I have reviewed so far is Centurion. But reviews for Rome, Gladiator and King Arthur are upcoming. King Arthur is one of my favourite movies of all time although it is not on my Top 10 War Movies list because, despite what I just said, the list is reserved for “proper” war movies. I equally like Gladiator a great deal but I wasn’t impressed with Centurion. Not at all. I haven’t seen The Last Legion but have a feeling it it is the weakest movie on this list.

  • Ben Hur (US 1959) directed by William Wyler, starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Martha Scott
  • Spartacus (US 1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton
  • Cleopatra (US 1963) directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, George Cole
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire (US 1964) directed by Anthony Mann, starring Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Christopher Plummer, Omar Sharif
  • Caligula (US/IT 1979) directed by Tinto Brass, starring Malcolm McDowellPeter O’TooleHelen Mirren
  • Gladiator (GBR/ USA 2000) directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed (see my review)
  • Imperium: Augustus (GE/ITA/ FRA/ ESP/ AUT/ GBR 2003 TV) dirceted by Roger Young, starring Peter O’Toole, Charlotte Rampling, Vittoria Belvedere, Benjamin Sadler
  • King Arthur (USA/UK/Ireland 2004) directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Til Schweiger, Ioan Gruffudd, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson,Mads Mikkelsen
  • Rome (US/ GBR 2005, TV series) directed by Carl Franklin, John Maybury and others, starring Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson
  • Empire (US 2005, TV Mini series) directed by John Gray, Kim Manners and Greg Yaitanes, starring Satiago Cabrera, Vincent Regan, James Frain and Emily Blunt
  • The Last Legion (US/ GBR/ FRA 2007) directed by Doug Lefler, starring Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Thomas Sangster (my review)
  • Centurion (GBR 2010) diercted by Neil Marshal, starring Michael Fassbender, Andreas Wisniewski, Dave Legeno, JJ Feild (here is my review of Centurion)
  • The Eagle (UK/US 2011) directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland (here is my review)

Beaufort (2007) The First Israeli War Movie

The Israeli movie Beaufort is an extremely strange movie. I guess it is by far one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. I can whether say if it was good or bad I just found it interesting but hard to watch as it is unfortunately a bit boring. The movie is based on Ron Leshem’s eponymous novel Beaufort. Both are based on true events. I have a feeling that the book is much better. It won Israel’s top literary award and a prize for military literature. The movie was an Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Picture in 2008 and won a prize in Berlin as well.

The Fortress Beaufort was occupied since the last war between Israel and Lebanon in 1982. In 2000 it is still an outpost of the Israeli Army. They want to abandon it but constant shelling by the Hezbollah makes this very difficult. A handful of soldiers is still defending this outpost, waiting for orders to withdraw. The Hezbollah hope to kill as many of the soldiers still posted on the fortress in order to make it look as if the Israeli Army was forced to retreat and was actually fleeing.

The tensions are pretty high. Insubordination, fits of anger and sheer helplessness make the situation hard to handle. The men start to cry easily or get annoyed for no reason. When a guy from the bomb squad gets blown up, the morale sinks below zero.

All this doesn’t make this a strange movie. What is strange is how slow it is. The slowness does make you feel how claustrophobic it must have been in this bunker to which they added layers and layers of concrete ever year. It’s like a labyrinth.

The music which is almost nonexistent and very sparse contributes to this claustrophobic ambience.

The strangest however is that this movie rather feels like a theater play. There are so many indoor scenes in which one or two characters slowly discuss things that they could easily make a play out of it.

At moments I was reminded of Dino Buzzati’s Il deserto dei tartari aka The Tartar Steppe (which I love) or even Waiting for Godot. There is a senselessness and futility in the endeavor to guard a meaningless fortress that gives this movie an existential feel.

I found a trailer but the music has nothing to do with the movie. Most scenes are totally silent or featuring a somewhat horror movie like soundtrack. Still it gives you an idea. As said, it is absolutely not bad, just not my cup of tea.

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane (1997) Navy SEALS, Military Life, Sexism and a Whole Bunch of Unanswered Questions

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane is an extremely entertaining movie. I just need to enumerate who’s in it and you might be tempted to watch it if you haven’t done so yet. Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, James Caviezel, Anne Bancroft. The story is interesting if somewhat implausible but certainly providing us with some food for thought about different things.

Lt Jordan O’Neil (Demi Morre) is an ambitious young woman. She would like to climb the career ladder no matter what it takes. Being pretty sure this will need some combat experience she is willing to go the whole way. Only women aren’t really allowed to undergo combat training. Senator DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) is equally ambitious. Sensing that supporting the admission of women to the Army might boost her career she does everything to get permission to let a test candidate, G.I. Jane, undergo training. To make matters worse the people against her and this undertaking decide to choose the hardest possible training, namely the Navy SEAL training.

The selection of the right candidate takes some time. Senator DeHaven doesn’t want a masculine looking woman, she doesn’t want a homosexual woman either as this could undermine the exercise. When she sees as picture of beautiful Jordan O’Neil, she knows, it is her and no other that she wants for this test run.

What follows is one of those stories that show us how a resilient human being can fight even the most adverse circumstances, overcome weakness and prove her strength.

Jordan undergoes the SEAL training and where many men fail, she excels. She makes it through the initial week and the following weeks. During this time she is closely supervised, challenged and in the end also brutalized by the Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen). Of all the boot camp bastards that we get to see in this type of training focused movies he is by far one of the most complex and interesting. Not just because he quotes poetry but also because he changes considerably and ultimately because he isn’t a bad sort at all. He has to be mean. Sure, there is this one scene in which he overdoes it but doesn’t he have his reasons?

The movie shows 2/3 boot camp and 1/3 actual combat. This las part is highly fictionalized and serves mainly the purpose to show how worthy a soldier Jordan has become.

The movie is a bit on the sentimental side and – yes – it is stretching quite a few things but I like it and have watched it before. I think Demi Moore was a terrific choice and it is one of Viggo Mortensen’s best roles. Also Anne Bancroft as a real b**** is great.

Does it say much about women in the military? It certainly does look at the adversity a woman would have and does face, it looks at the prejudices and preconceptions. Jordan has to start to do it exactly like the men before she is only half accepted. It shows also that it isn’t only that men think women can’t do it but that men are constantly tested by the presence of women. Temptation as well as compassion play into it. Seeing a wounded female soldier might be harder to take than seeing a wounded man. And what If she has to rescue you and she is a slender woman while you are a big, bulky man, weighing twice as much?

My top favourite scene is when a bunch of soldiers, one of them of African-American origin, discuss if a woman should be admitted to this type of training and the African-American soldier points out that his grandfather was only allowed a s a cook during WWII. It is obvious that the prejudices African.Americans had to face were similar to those women had and have to endure.

Don’t watch it, if you are looking for answers, watch it when you want great entertainment and a probably very realistic look at the Navy SEALS training.

I am left with quite a lot of questions. Are there women today in the Navy SEALS? Is it in any way a realistic movie or not at all? Why exactly did the Master Chief mistreat her like this?

Answers anyone?

633 Squadron (1964) British Air Combat Movie that Would Make a Great Remake

The British movie 633 Squadron is an entertaining air combat movie. It has a little bit of everything in it. It is part adventure story, war movie , suicide mission and romance. Although it is not great it has a lot of potential and would be a great choice for a remake. None of the actors is remarkable, exchanging them wouldn’t do any harm and the special effects could do with some revamping as well. Still if you have a special interest in aircraft you might want to watch it as it gives you the possibility of seeing a real Mosquito (as far as I know only one is the real thing, the others were remade). The Mosquito was a funny, enduring little plane and is one of the rare made of wood. When it entered production in was one of the fastest operating aircraft.

“In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft, but not now! It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again…” (Hermann Göring)

File:Mosquito 600pix.jpg

The story of 633 Squadron resembles the story of the much better movie The Dam Busters. A group of pilots has to go on a secret mission and drop bombs on a German rocket fuel factory that is based in Norway. The Norwegian resistance does also play a part in it and the squadron leader falls in love with the sister of one of their members. The squadron is a typical war movie squadron that pushes diversity to the limits. We see British, Irish, Scottish, Australian and Indian members. The accents are quite enjoyable if you go for that kind of detail. The mission itself is quite gripping and suspenseful. The losses were, as could be expected, extremely high.

633 Squadron is loosely based on a true story which makes it interesting to watch, still I would say if you want to see two really great British WWII air combat movies, go for The Battle of Britain or the aforementioned The Dam Busters.

Les femmes de l’ombre aka Female Agents (2008) Women in the Resistance

Not every slick-looking movie with good-looking actresses on the French Resistance is a good movie. Unfortunately not or Les femmes de l’ombre would have been great. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad it’s just not great. If you want an entertaining period drama, this is your movie (ok, there are a some torture scenes that dampen the experience a bit but nice clothes and make-up make up for it). It’s a little bit like Black Book aka Zwartboek but less convincing. The theme would have been interesting and worth dedicating a movie to.

Based on true events, it follows the story of Louise Desfontaine (Sophie Marceau), a sniper with the French Resistance. When things heat up in France she leaves for England and joins the SOE. One day she is contacted by an agent who happens to be her brother Pierre (Julien Boisselier) whom she suspected of being a collaborator. He hires her and four other women to rescue a British spy who has been captured in France by the Germans. The Germans aren’t aware of his identity and think he is German. The women will have to team up, two disguised as nurses, two as exotic dancers (yes, you will see them topless, it’s a French movie) and the fifth will place bombs under German cars.

The five women are a composite group, one is an ex-prostitute (Julie Depardieu), one the ex-girlfriend (Marie Gillain) of the Nazi officer (Moritz Bleibtreu) who tries to hunt them down.

What at first looks like a success soon goes awry. Louise’s brother get’s caught and we all know what that means.

The women go back to Paris on another mission and here things goe definitely very wrong as one gets captured and immediately crumbles under torture (one finger nail off and she spits it all out).

I can really not say why exactly I wasn’t too convinced. Because I have seen the brilliant L’armée du crime aka The Army of Crime before? Or some of the movies on Nordic Resistance that are truly good? I think it is in part due to a slightly off-key cast. Every woman wears heavy make-up which is nice, only Sophie Marceau has to look somewhat stony faced and unattractive (she isn’t successful, she’s too beautiful to look unattractive). I think the producers and directors were aware they would be criticized for their choice of too pretty women and tried to balance this out by not showing a heavily made up Sophie Marceau. She is the sniper after all… Why, if they didn’t want her to look her very best, did they not cast another actress? Because she is a great actress? I always suspected her to be far from accomplished, and she really isn’t too good. I would have preferred her to look as beautiful as she can and not try so hard to look efficient. (I’m thinking of Demi Moore as G.I. Jane who was much more convincing.) I think you can actually be cold-blooded without looking it. And I am not a big fan of Moritz Bleibtreu either. At least not in supposedly serious roles (I have seen him in German movies in which I found him very good). Julien Boisselier and the other four actresses are very good, especially Julie Depardieu and Marie Gillain.

Les femmes de l’ombre aka Female Agents is entertaining, just don’t expect to much of it. If you want the real deal, watch L’armée du crime.