Bat*21 (1988)

Bat 21 Movie Poster

Sometimes you get a movie. Sometimes you don’t. I must admit I didn’t get Bat*21. I found it lame and somewhat uninspired despite the fact that it is based on a true story. Gene Hackman is a decent actor and so is Danny Glover but still… I had to look it up in my book on Vietnam movies to understand what the director had wanted with this movie. Apparently Bat*21 was meant as an answer to Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and other Vietnam infantry combat movies who focus on young soldiers and officers. The two main characters in Bat*21 are in their fifties. The movie wants to show that older soldiers are less gung-ho and that it might have been better if they had had their say instead of the young ones. In the movie, Hackman’s and Glover’s characters stand for maturity and taking calculated risks. They are aware of the fact that this war is senseless and should be ended.

Lt Col. Hambleton (Gene Hackman), a weapons countermeasures expert, is shot down over enemy territory. His knowledge is vital to some of the missions and the Air Force wants to do everything to get him back. As a first measure they send out reconnaissance pilot Cpt “Bird-Dog” Clark (Danny Glover) who has flown  far more missions than anyone can count. Without seeing each other they develop a relationship and Bird-Dog is seriously concerned for “Ham”. The territory he is in is hot. Enemies are swarming the place and the area should be carpet-bombed in a couple of days. If he can’t get out in time Ham will be killed one way or the other.

“Ham” is quite apt at hiding, he spends the night in the jungle and more than once an enemy patrol doesn’t see him because he is so well camouflaged. Thanks to a “code” referring to golf holes he can transmit his position to Bird-Dog who monitors him from above.

It’s not an awful movie and for those who love choppers and fighter planes, there is quite a lot to see. It did remind me of a lame version of Flight of the Intruder without the corny end. If you like stories based on true accounts you might still enjoy it. It was quite tricky to get out of that mess alive. Despite a lot of good intentions I can’t rate it any higher than 2.5/5. It certainly achieved to be the antithesis of Platoon, Hamburger Hill and Full Metal Jacket.

If you are looking for really great Vietnam movies see my post 10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See.

12 Russian War Movies You Must See

Russia is another of those countries whose film production rarely disappoints. I haven’t seen all of the below mentioned movies yet but have read a lot about them and have seen parts of them. There are most certainly more but these seem to be the most important ones. They are quite different. Some, like 9th Company, are pure, gritty  infantry combat, others like Come and See are more experimental. Mongol and Admiral are quite beautiful. What they all have in common is a feel of authenticity, and a way of showing how atrocious war is that is very unique and emotional. If you haven’t seen any Russian war movies so far, I would suggest you change that as soon as possible.

The Fortress of War aka Brestskaya krepost (2010) Dramatic infantry combat. The Germans attack the Brest Fortress from all sides. Soldiers and civilians fight for their life. (See my review)

Admiral (2008) The true story of Admiral Kolchak. WWI and Russian Revolution. War Movie and Love Story. (Here is my review)

Mongol (2007) The story of the rise of Genghis Khan. (Here is my review)

9th Company aka 9 Rota (2005) Gritty infantry combat in Afghanistan. It has similarities with Platoon but the characters are very different, very emotional. (See my review)

The Thief aka Vor (1997) Childhood drama that starts during WWII.

Come and See aka Idi i Smotri (1985) A young boy gets caught up in the atrocities of WWII.

The Dawns here are Quiet aka A zori zdes tikhie (1972) The story of a group of female soldiers during WWII.

Ivan’s childhood aka Ivanovo detstvo (1962) A young boy works as a spy at the eastern front. Three Soviet officers try to take care of this boy-child.

Ballad of a Soldier aka Ballada o Soldate (1959) A 19-year-old soldier gets a medal for bravery. On his leave he meets a girl on the train and falls in love with her. (Here’s my review)

The Story of a Man aka Sudba cheloveka (1959) The story of a man whose life is destroyed by WWII. When his village is bombed his wife and children are killed.

The Cranes are Flying aka Letyat zhuravli  (1957) A young woman waits for the love of her life to return from the war. The movie shows the battlefield and the home front. (See my review)

Battleship Potemkin aka Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925) A silent movie classic. One of the first war movies ever with a lot of famous scenes. Very expressive.

It is also worth mentioning other movies by Sergei Bondarchuk like War and Peace or Waterloo. They are all excellent but mostly co-productions with international stars that’s why I didn’t include them but chose The Story of a Man instead.

Do you have any favourite Russian war movies and/or recommendations?

Peter Weir’s The Way Back (2010)

I wasn’t aware of this movie despite the fact that Peter Weir is one of my favourite film directors. I’m glad that The War Movie Buff told me about it.

Even though I like some of Weir’s older movies and also Master & Commander a lot, I didn’t expect anything before watching The Way Back. I’m glad I didn’t, I think I would have been very disappointed if I had.  I’m afraid it is Peter Weir’s weakest film ever. The story, based on true events, had a lot of potential, the actors were mostly well-chosen, the cinematography is stunning, the score is convincing and still…. There is something missing. I couldn’t help comparing it to another POW movie, also starring Colin Farrell, namely Hart’s War. While Hart’s War focuses on how the prisoners escape from the camp, The Way Back shows their long journey from the Siberian gulag to India.

The movie starts in Poland in 1941. Janusz has been captured. His wife denounced him under torture. He is a spy and sentenced to spend the next 20 years in a Siberian gulag. He’s a strong young man, optimistic, kind and resourceful. He makes friends in the camp, some tell him that it is possible to escape. He chooses a few who will follow him, they prepare their escape and one night they do it.

It’s a small group of seven people, headed by the spirited Janusz (Jim Sturgess). An American (Ed Harris), a Russian criminal (Colin Farrell), a Polish priest and others. One dies in the early days. The hardships of their journey are unimaginable. First they walk for weeks from the camp to Lake Baikal, then to Mongolia, the Chinese wall, across Tibet and into India. They cross the mountains and deserts, almost die from cold, hunger and thirst. After a few weeks, they are followed by a young girl who finally joins them. Some make it, some don’t.

On their way, each time they cross the border of a country, they see how far Communism has advanced. Since they escaped a gulag, they have to get to a country that is free of communism. The moment they enter Mongolia and then China, they know, they have to make it to India.

I’ve seen my share of POW movies. The Way Back is one of the weakest, it’s more a survival story that is told in a boring way. The fact that Colin Farrell was in Hart’s War (which I think was a bad movie here is my review) and in this one, made matters worse. One cannot help comparing those two movies and also see parallels between the choice of Ed Harris in this one and Bruce Willis in the other.

I guess you gathered that this movie left me pretty unfazed. It’s not bad it’s just lacking something.

If you want to watch a truly good newer POW movie watch Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn (here is my review). Of the older ones I like The Colditz Story best.