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.

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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?

Sink the Bismarck! (1960) A British Movie About One of the Most Crucial Moments in British History

The British black and white movie Sink the Bismarck! tells the true account of one of the most difficult moments during WWII. The new German battleship the Bismarck was the biggest and most powerful battleship to ever cruise the sea. A frightening enemy that had to be stopped before it could break loose and reach the Atlantic. The war on the North Atlantic was at its height and so were the British losses at sea.

Sink the Bismarck! switches back and forth between scenes in the war room and scenes at sea. As a narrator states at the beginning of the movie, the war is fought at sea but the decisions are made in the war room. The scenes taking place in the war room resemble many others that are depicted in British movies but they are much more psychological. The filmmakers decided to focus closely on Captain Shepard who has been promoted and is in charge of the navy on land and on his assistant, Anne Davis, a young woman whose fiancé died at the beginning of the war. Shepard himself is grieving for his wife and one of his sons. He is shown as hard and rigid in the beginning but he changes considerably over the course of the movie. The people around him, although annoyed by his harshness, still know that he has to take some of the most difficult decisions that have to be taken during the war.

The most tragic moment in the movie is certainly when the biggest British battleship, The Hood, is sunk within minutes of attacking The Bismarck. It explodes in front of the eyes of the rest of the British fleet which is close by.

After this has happened Churchill gives one of his famous speeches and utters the memorable words “Sink the Bismarck!”.

We all know what course history has taken so it is not too much of a spoiler to say that the British navy, together with the assistance of the pilots of aircraft carrier Ark Royal, did manage to sink the huge German fortress. Quite a tragic moment even for the British. No one really cheered. There is something eerie about naval combat; many people die when a ship is finally sunk but the ships themselves are lost as well and they often look like gigantic wounded animals dying a violent death.

All this said, it’s a fine movie. The characters we see in the war room are well-developed, the tragedy of the initial defeat of the British navy is palpable, the huge burden that lasted on those who take decisions can be felt and the utter senselessness of war is symbolized in the sinking of those huge ships. I couldn’t help admire the German engineers at one point, the Bismarck was an astonishingly powerful ship. But I also admired those people in charge in the British war rooms. They worked day and night, hardly ever slept and were dedicated to the last. 4/5

In Harm’s Way (1965) or John Wayne, Pearl Harbor and Some Decent Naval Combat in the Pacific

I don’t know how many war movies John Wayne did. The only thing I know, he did a lot. I’ve seen The Longest Day but apart from that Otto Preminger‘s black and white movie  In Harm’s Way was my first. I actually quite liked it. It’s a decent movie with some interesting female leads and a love story between John Wayne and Patricia Neal’s character that resembles a real relationship and not some ridiculously soppy romance.

I already mentioned it in my post on Pearl Harbor as it starts on the night before the attack of Pearl Harbor. At the center of the movie is Admiral Torrey who is first demoted and then promoted again. The movie analyses what is going on outside of the actual battles; the planning, the men’s love and private lives. Torrey meets his son who is in the Navy for the first time after several years. Their relationship is very conflict-laden but evolves during the movie. Torry gets to know the nurse Lt. Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal) who is probably one of the greatest nurses in any war movie. Kirk Douglas plays a real asshole, Commander Eddington. We see a few decent battle scenes but nothing too exciting.

Too cut  a long story short, In Harm’s Way is a movie for John Wayne fans, for people who want to watch something older about the war in the Pacific, for those who like a well-told story that focuses on relationships and for those who can overlook a few gender related oddities (Two things struck me. One was the “tea scene” and the other the way people react to Eddington’s crime). As a war movie I would rate it 3.5-4/5.

Don’t miss the trailer. I have never seen a trailer like this. I first thought it was a parody and then I realised it was just unreflected promotion. It has real historical value. Just watch it and thank God that trailers have evolved through the years.

Antwone Fisher (2002) or How One Man Was Saved by the Navy

Some movies don’t work for some people. This one did not work for me. If I hadn’t been so tired yesterday, I would never have promised a post. Maybe no one cares if I keep my promise. I don’t know, but I care. Just one little thing about the statement on the DVD cover “This is a film that can change people’s lives”. I agree. I slept incredibly well afterwards.

I am a bit sorry for being this sarcastic. Antwone Fisher tackles a topic we need to talk about, namely child abuse. If this movie manages to raise awareness, then I am sorry for my comments, but for me this was done in such an over-sentimental way… Insufferable.

Antwone Fisher is based on a true story. Antwone wrote the script himself.

Antwone (Derek Luke) was born in prison, shortly after his father had been shot dead by one of his girl-friends. The boy was taken away and given in foster care. A hellish place. He was beaten and abused. Sexually and psychologically. At 16 he is sent to a men’s shelter but he does not stay. He flees and joins the Navy. He likes it there a great deal but he has problems fitting in. He has what we term today “an Anger Management problem”. Lucky Antwone has a very kind superior officer and is sent to a Navy psychologist (Denzel Washington) with issues of his own. At first he won’t talk but then he opens up and has a real chance to heal. The psychologist urges him to find his family and in the end he does. During the sessions with the psychologist we hear the truly awful story.

There is also a love story involved. It is ok. I did not mind it as much as all the other corny details.

What is actually more interesting than the movie  – which is frankly a total failure what might explain why I hadn’t heard of it – is the extras on the disc. The real Antwone tells that the Navy was his first real home. It gave him a chance and opportunities to build up self-esteem and confidence. This is a picture of the Navy that we seldom get to see. At least over here in Europe where we are highly suspicious whenever anything to do with the American military is mentioned. It is still widely believed that the military is a place for those who have no other choice and where they might get worse than they already are. The film director is also interviewed and says that all the officers they met on the ships were kind and intelligent people and nothing like the abusive bastards we often get to see in movies.

All in all, thanks to the extras, this soppy movie has broadened my horizon a little bit.

One last element I would like to mention before finishing this post. Antwone is an African-American kid. His foster family is African-American and so is the psychologist. What the psychologist actually tells Antwone in the beginning is that the abusive behavior (the beating, not the sex) is an inheritance from the slavery days. It is passed on from one generation to the next. Rightly Antwone protests, saying that this sounded like an easy excuse. I believe, this is giving the wrong message. Child abuse is universal. Sadly it is extremely common everywhere.

I am glad for Antwone that he survived his childhood and became a very gentle and creative person. He writes poems, draws and, as already said, wrote the script himself.

Antwone Fisher