Behind Enemy Lines (2001)

In my definition a good war movie is a good anti-war movie. If we apply this definition then Behind Enemy Lines is either not a good movie or not a good war movie. Since I personally enjoy it, I would say, it is simply not a war movie but, like Hunt for Red October and similar films, one of the movies that is based on a war premise. Only in my opinion Behind Enemy Lines is far better than its predecessors, the old-school cold war movies. Not sure why I’m so fond of it, but I am. It’s a guilty pleasure, has some great scenes and pictures and a pretty decent score. And I like Gene Hackman far better than Sean Connery.

Superhornet navigator Lt Burnett (Owen Wilson) and his pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are on an unauthorized reconnaissance mission over Bosnia in the early 90s. They fly off course in a non-flyover zone and take pictures of a mass grave, hidden by the Serbs. Unfortunately they are spotted by ground troops.

They have been stationed on the USS Carl Vinson for quite a while. Burnett is fed up with the Navy. He feels that they are a long way from WWII where American intervention made sense and that they aren’t doing any good. He wants to leave the Navy as fast as he can. His commanding officer, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), is less than thrilled. He doesn’t share his opinion and doesn’t want to lose a good man. He sends him on this reconnaissance mission to remind him how much he loves to fly and hoping he would make up his mind.

When the Serbs see the plane fly over the zone where the grave is hidden, they track it and shoot it down. Those air scenes are pretty great and one of the strengths of this movie. Pilot and navigator get out alive but since the Serbs know they have taken pictures of something nobody should know about, they are hunted. From now on the movie follows Burnett’s attempt to escape. One suspenseful scene follows the next. While some of them are not very realistic, they are entertaining and suspenseful.

Burnett is left on his own for most of the time as Reigart cannot send a chopper to get him out because this would endanger the peace process and the mission wasn’t authorized by High Command to begin with.

Burnett is tracked down by his enemies more than once and each escape is narrower than the other. My favourite scene is the one in which he has to cross a mine field in order to escape.

Behind Enemy Lines is a total failure as anti-war movie but works extremely well as a war-themed action adventure. The only real flaw is the disappointingly corny ending.

Dunkirk (1958)

The British movie Dunkirk, starring John Mills, was one of those movies I was really looking forward to. I’m not sure what I expected but certainly nothing as boring as this. Those 135 minutes felt like a mini series. That’s too bad as the story of Dunkirk has a lot of potential or someone like Hugh Sebag-Montefiore wouldn’t have been able to dedicate a 700 pages tome to this story only. As boring as it was at times, it’s not a bad movie but it has the wrong title. It isn’t really about Dunkirk.

Dunkirk tells two parallel story lines and that’s where it fails. One part of the story follows the men around Corporal Tubby Bins (John Mills) who is involuntarily in charge of a group of men cut off from the rest of the army, somewhere behind enemy lines. The other story line focusses on the British civilians who slowly begin to understand that they may no longer be able to stay out of the war and that each and every little contribution is valuable. The stories converge on the beaches of Dunkirk where hundred thousands of British and French soldiers are trapped and waiting to be rescued. This was one of the biggest rescue missions of any war ever. And many of those who courageously helped save others lost their lives.

By dividing the story in two and showing the tragedy of the trapped soldiers only in the last 15 minutes, the movie failed to give an accurate picture. Although Atonement is certainly not a war movie, I thought it captured Dunkirk far better (I attached the scene under the Dunkirk trailer for those who are interested). It’s more sentimental but for my taste Dunkirk was too sober.

Something I liked in the movie Dunkirk was the way they showed how the civilians got dragged into the war. All the scenes on the British home front are far more convincing. I think, if they had called it “Operation Dynamo“, as the rescue mission was called, and if they had considerably cut the John Mills’s scenes, it would have worked better.

It seems that there is a very good TV mini series called Dunkirk as well. I’m going to watch it soon and will let you know if it is any better.

Tigerland (2000)

Tigerland is one of those movies on which people disagree. One can’t really say it is a question of love it or hate it but a question of appreciating or not appreciating it. I liked it far better the first time I watched it. This time around I noticed far more of its flaws but it’s still decent.

It’s 1971 and a group of recruits is sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, to undergo combat training. The place is called “Tigerland” and is as close to the real Vietnam as can be. One of the recruits is Private Bozz (Colin Farrell). Private Bozz is one of the most insubordinate privates I’ve ever seen in any war movie. He doesn’t only disobey, he makes fun of his superiors and provokes them constantly. He breaks every rule, can’t take anything seriously and is unwilling to participate in anything that will lead him to kill civilians or torture Vietnamese soldiers. The other recruits are torn between hatred and admiration. 1971 is late in the war and nobody, not even some of the superiors, sees any sense in the war anymore. Despite being arrogant and cocky, Bozz has a good heart and helps more than one soldier to be sent back home. He tells his only friend, Private Paxton, that he is going to try to escape to Mexico.

Halfway into the movie his dispute with another Private, Wilson, that started early in the film, escalates and when the training intensifies, he isn’t only hit and abused by one of the aggressive Sargeants but he must fear for his life as Wilson has sworn to kill him in action. The training is as close to war as training can get and an “accident” could happen any time.

The whole beginning of the movie is reminiscent of the Boot Camp part in Full Metal Jacket – including the abusive training instructor – while the second half is rather like a thriller. I thought that this worked well and when I watched it for the first time I found it quite suspenseful. What didn’t work for me is Bozz’s tone and attitude. I can’t help feeling that it’s not appropriate. I found the movie felt too modern, had more of an Iraq movie feel. I’m not sure if anyone else has felt the same but I really found the movie felt too modern for its theme. This is a movie that looks back and not one that tries to convey a feeling for how it was. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s how I felt about it.

Apart from that it illustrates very well how disillusioned the soldiers and recruits were and how pointless the war really was.

I would really like to know what others thought of this. Did you like it? Did it work for you? Isn’t Private Bozz overdrawn?

War Movies Parents Guide Film Quiz 11

It’s been such a long time since the last war movie film quiz. A year? Almost. At the time I had discovered the Parents Content Advisory Guide on IMDb which I still find hilarious.

Below you can read the Parents Content Advisory Guide of a very famous war movie. Can you guess which one it is? (Just in case – the picture is taken from The Fallen and not from the movie we are looking for.)

Sex & Nudity

A short scene involves soldiers being given a talk on how to avoid sexual disease while off duty. The dialogue is not particularly explicit, making reference to ‘horizontal refreshment’. A diagram of a male sexual organ is shown very briefly (intended for humorous effect).

Off duty soldiers in a bar look at black & white images of female nudity – seen only very briefly. The same soldiers then visit a brothel; it is implied that they will have sexual intercourse (none is shown). One character questions the morality of their actions.

A number of soldiers are seen (from behind) running naked into the sea; underwater scenes show the soldiers swimming naked in murky waters while being bombarded with shrapnel.

Violence & Gore

There are a number of battle scenes towards the end of the film. A large number of soldiers are killed or wounded, although this is not shown in a graphic way. There is little by way of explicit gore; a number of relatively minor flesh wounds are shown with a little blood visible at times.

Profanity

There is some mild swearing during the course of the film but not a great deal; bad language is generally kept to a minimum. There are no ‘f’ words.

Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking

There are several scenes involving the drinking of alcohol. A number of soldiers smoke cigarettes in the trenches.

Frightening/Intense Scenes

Some scenes of trench warfare are tense and emotionally charged.

Did you get it? No? Here is the solution.

The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen is one of those classics that many people like. Surprisingly I’ve never even seen it on TV although Hollywood classics are regularly shown on Sunday afternoons. I didn’t expect anything because other than that it’s set in Africa during WWI I knew nothing about it. After having seen it, I know that it is rather a screwball comedy than a war movie as such. Nevertheless I enjoyed watching it. It is entertaining and the actors are excellent. Being a bit of a Humphrey Bogart fan I had to watch it sooner or later.

September 1914, German Eastern Africa. Missionary Reverend Samuel Sayer and his prudish sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) live on a farm isolated from any other colonists. They are regularly visited by Charlie Allnut who owns a crummy boat, the “African Queen” and travels up and down the river, bringing the mail and other things. He is boorish and has very obviously an alcohol problem.

When the war in Europe breaks out, the colonies are drawn into it as well. German troops burn down the mission and the Reverend dies soon afterwards. Allnut passes by on his boat and helps Rose to bury her brother and takes her with him on the African Queen. They face a very long, difficult and dangerous journey down the river and on top of that Rose is determined to help the war effort. She suggests, Allnut should construct a torpedo and that they should then attempt to sink a German warship, the Luisa.

As is to be expected their trip down the river is more than adventurous. Torrential rains, rapids, mosquitoes and German posts make the journey very daunting. What is worse for Allnut is the fact that Rose supervises him and throws away his brandy. She wants him to behave and at first they bicker and quarrel constantly. After several days on the boat and many dangerous adventures they get closer and end up falling in love.

What an unlikely couple they make. What I liked is the fact that Rose is the inventive and courageous one. Although she doesn’t exactly look like an adventurer, in her long skirts, hat and with her prissy little manners, she is quite gutsy after all. Something else that makes this movie memorable is the fact that it reminds us that the Germans used to have a few colonies as well. One tends to forget that as they lost them all during WWI.

It’s an adventure story and a very amusing tale in which two very different people on a shabby little boat, fall in love and successfully fight a whole crew of a warship. It certainly is an early version of adventure romances like Romancing the Stone.

The Killing Fields (1984)

Hard to say why I didn’t like the The Killing Fields despite the fact that War and Journalism is a topic that I find fascinating and that this movie is considered to be one of the best of the genre. One of the problems I had was the length. The other one was the score. That’s such a dated score, it ruined the movie to a large extent.

The Killing Fields is based on a true story and one of the first movies whose topic was the genocide of Cambodian people by Pol Pot. The two journalists Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran have been covering the war in Cambodia since the early 70s. They are not only dedicated journalists but close friends. Pran serves as interpreter on their missions.

In 1975 when the United States withdraw from the country and the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, advance on Phnom Penh, Pran, as a US sympathizer is in great danger. There was a moment when he and Syd could have left the country easily but things have developed too fast and now it’s hardly possible for anyone but US and European citizens to leave the country.

Knowing what would happen to Pran if he stayed, Syd and some fellow journalist try to forge a US passport for him. Unfortunately the attempt fails and while his children and his wife have been able to fly out, Pran is left behind when the other journalists leave. Captured by the Khmer Rouge he is brought to a labour camp.

In the second half the movie moves back and forth between a guilt-ridden Syd in the US, and Pran’s ordeal in the Cambodian labour camp. In imaginary letters that he writes to Syd in his head, he tells him what happens, interprets what we see. I’m not sure if this was a problem of my DVD but none of the parts spoken in Khmer have been subtitled.

The parts in the labour camp are very well done. This isn’t only a labour camp. The labourers and especially the children are re-educated and brainwashed. They have to unlearn everything that they knew before. It’s of great danger to have “forbidden” knowledge, like foreign languages or any higher education. The children are easily turned into little fanatics and the grownups who are afraid of being executed try their best to obey.

The Pol Pot regime was a systematic genocide and far over 2 million people were killed. Even though I didn’t particularly like it, I must admit the movie has its merits. And the Cambodian actor, Haing S. Ngor gave a very touching and convincing performance.

Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malèna (2000)

Malèna, set in a little town in Sicily during WWII, combines a coming of age story with a war-time story. The first time I watched it, it stunned me. I still liked it a lot the second time but since the story has a tragic ending, it’s more intense to watch it for the first time.

Malèna (Monica Bellucci) is the most beautiful and seductive woman in the little Sicilian town of Castelcuto. Her husband is somewhere in Africa, fighting for Mussolini, while she is left behind in a very hostile climate in which all the men try to have an affair with her and the women hate her for her looks. All the men see her as an object, with the exception of a young boy who falls in love with her. We see the story through his eyes. He is so besotted with her that he follows her around, sneaks out of his house at night and spies on her.

She is a favourite conversational topic and gossip and rumours follow her wherever she goes. People talk very bad about her behind her back. They call her a whore and say she betrays her husband and has lovers. Only the young Renato knows this isn’t so. But when her husband is reported dead, there isn’t any protection for Malèna anymore. She can’t find a job, she has no money and food is scare and whatever she does, the town, reigned by men, turns on her and finally forces her into prostitution.

When the war is over, the women take revenge on her, not because she sold her body to the Germans but because all their husbands lusted after her.

Tornatore captures the atmosphere and hysteria of an Italian city during WWII very well. How they all cheered Mussolini and pretended to know nothing of it when the Americans arrived. The hypocrisy, the paranoia, the double standards. Malèna has the extreme misfortune of not fitting in. Too stylish, too good-looking, not very sociable nor talkative. This causes the jealousy of the women who have no liberties or power and the hatred of the men who treat women like objects. This society is ruled by fanatic Catholicism and the double standards that go with it.

I don’t want to give away too much but the destiny of Malèna which is extreme is very sad and to a certain extent quite typical for women during that time in Italy. Many women, especially in Italy, were forced into prostitution when their husbands were gone or dead.

Malèna is an extremely esthetic movie, beautiful pictures, matching music, and of course there is Monica Bellucci whose beauty brings Malèna to life. The sexual awakening and infatuation of Renato is touching and extremely funny at the same time. It clashes with his mother’s prudery and his father’s strictness.  The end of the story is tragic and infuriating.