Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder (2008) Hilarious or Bad Taste?

Before I knew what  Tropic Thunder was all about I saw it mentioned a few times on people’s Top 10 Favourite war movies lists. Aha?  And then I saw several really angry and infuriated reviews. Definitely a movie that polarizes. Those who love it think it’s genius, those who hate it think it is hateful, despicable, in bad taste and politically incorrect.

I actually think it is extremely funny. It’s a huge piss take and quite multilayered. Yes, it is vulgar and there is a lot of foul language and swearing but it has to be like that. That is part of the parody. There is a lot of swearing in some war movies, especially in the boot camp parts, so that had to be a theme.

Tropic Thunder foremost makes fun of the US Vietnam war movies (I guess there aren’t many others anyway), of the macho type gung-ho flicks à la Rambo as well as of the great movies like Platoon. These movies, as good as some of them are, live to a certain extent of stereotypes and stereotypes are great material for parodies.

The most important part in the movie however is the acting. The actors are absolutely outstanding. Ben Stiller playing a retard, Jack Black a dumb-ass comedy star, Nick Nolte as Vietnam vet gone writer, Robert Downey Jr as black Sgt and Tom Cruise as Jewish businessman who wants to make money, money, money.

There is nothing sacred in  this movie. Not the death scene from Platoon, nor the Vietnam vets who write books, nor the poor little Vietcong, black soldiers, handicapped people, you name it…

But despite all the piss taking and fun it has a story to offer.

In the middle of the Vietnamese forest a film crew tries to shoot the memoirs of a Vietnam vet. The shooting and acting isn’t going well and finally the vet suggests that the actors should be left on their own in the middle of the forest where they would have to fight for their survival. Unfortunately they land on the territory of a Vietnamese drug gang and things turn very nasty.

Tropic Thunder is a parody of the Vietnam war movie subgenre but also of film business in general.  Every element that is part of a Vietnam war movie, including the drugs, the swearing and the 60s music are made fun of.

Many people loved it for its special effects and an equal amount of people hated it for the special effects.

All in all its an exaggeration, a caricature, a parody and in outrageously bad taste but really funny.

If you don’t want to watch the whole movie, watch at least Tom Cruise dancing.

Saints and Soldiers (2003) War Movie With A Religious Theme

Saints and Soldiers is loosely based on a true story, the Malmedy massacre. During The Battle of the Bulge, in 1944, a group of American soldiers got captured and subsequently massacred by Germans near Malmédy. The movie starts with the massacre and follows four of the men who manage to escape and are now deep behind enemy lines.

It’s a group of four very different men, one of them very religious. On their way back to their lines they save a British pilot who says that he has important information for the high command.

It is the middle of winter, the snow is high, the forest swarming with German troops and they are constantly in great danger. One of them, Deacon, the religious one, cannot sleep anymore. He has accidentally killed civilians, women and children and cannot forgive himself. He will have plenty of possibilities to atone, don’t worry, or the movie wouldn’t be called Saints and Soldiers.

Now if there is one thing that needs to be handled with care it is the blending of war and religion or let’s say war and Christian faith. There are religious or rather very spiritual undertones in The Thin Red Line but they are not Christian. Platoon got away with it but let’s face it, Platoon is one of a kind. A Midnight Clear, that is very similar to Saints and Soldiers, overdid it and this movie overdid it too.

Something I found insufferable was the pseudo-Brit. They really couldn’t find a British actor for that role? They had to take an American one who is supposedly good at accents? Well, he is not, he sucks.

This is too bad because from a purely cinematographic point of view this movie is beautiful. There are a few haunting images of the snow-covered forest and the story had, despite many clichés (a beautiful and helpful French woman, a German who is good although they are all monsters, some Germans that are monsters, many more Germans who are monsters) a lot of potential. I have a special interest in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Bastogne (brilliantly shown in Band of Brothers) but we don’t see much of this. This is really only the adventurous story of a few men who had to cross enemy territory and find back to their line.

Despite all this I think it does deserve 3/5.