10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See Before You Die

The following 10 Vietnam War Movies are the ones you absolutely must see. There are more. Many I have seen, some I have not. You may be astonished that one of the most famous ones, Apocalypse Now, is not among them… I wanted to stick to 10 and these are my 10 choices. I always found Apocalypse Now slightly dubious. Whatever.  The list is in chronological order. I did not want to weigh them against each other as they show quite different aspects of the same war.

The Deer Hunter (1978):  Young second generation Russian-Americans volunteer to prove themselves and serve their country. In Vietnam they are  captured and suffer as POWs and are forced to play Russian roulette. They come home disillusioned and physically and psychologically broken.

Platoon (1986): Infantry combat. A young man volunteers to go to Vietnam and soon sees his dreams shattered. He gets caught between two antagonistic officers, the ultimately good Sgt. Elias and the mean Sgt. Barnes.

Hamburger Hill (1987): No-nonsense infantry combat at its toughest. A group of soldiers of mixed social backgrounds and ethnic origins must fight a senseless battle for a hill.

Full Metal Jacket (1987): Artsy movie. First part is an unforgettable look at boot camp horrors. The second centers on  street fighting in Vietnam. Unusual setting. Vivid, haunting pictures.

Jacknife (1989): A brilliant De Niro in the role of a memorable Vietnam vet. (More details on this movie in my post).

Born on the 4th of July (1989): Maybe the ultimate anti-war statement and a in-depth exploration of masculinity. A movie that makes you cringe.

84 Charlie MoPic (1989): Documentary style but much better than the Iraq movie Redacted. Embedded journalists follow an infantry combat unit in the bush.

Heaven and Earth (1993): A look at the other side. What was the meaning of this war for  Vietnamese civilians?

Tigerland (2000): Boot camp. We see the soldiers train long before they are shipped out. Tensions rise until a drama unfolds.

We Were Soldiers (2002): The only Vietnam War Movie that truly attempts to show more than one side. Close look at the Vietnamese command. Heavy combat. Story switches between battle field and home front where the wives wait for the letters who will inform them they have become widows. Very emotional but not unproblematic movie. Too much trying to make us believe it was  a “good war”.

Maybe you disagree with this list. Let me know which ones you would choose. Which one do you really prefer?

Overlord: An Overlooked War Movie Masterpiece

The British war movie  Overlord is one of the most original and best war movies I have ever seen.  Since its coming out in 1975 it has mostly been forgotten although it was highly accalimed at the time.  That it is  widely unknown today  is really a pity. It is quite a simple movie, very short as well, only some 70 minutes, but it touches you like not many other. Overlord tells in a very personal way the story of a young man, Tom Beddows, who is going to war. He goes to boot camp, meets a young girl and knows he will be part of a big offensive that will send him to France. He will be part of Operation Overlord which  was the codename of  the invasion of Normandy by the Allied forces in WWII on June 6 1944 ( better known as D-Day). Tom doesn´t really want to be where he is but eventually gets accustomed to his new environment and the idea of going into battle. All through the movie he has dreams where he sees himself dying and he is quite convinced he wont return. Finally we see him being shipped out together with his comrades who are all  afraid of what awaits them.

As such this may not seem very special but the way this is done is just great. The movie was filmed in black and white and the story of  Tom Beddows is interwoven with original footage of bombed cities, planes, bombed trains, the landing itself and many other elements. This is done so well that the alternating parts blend into each other as if they were one movie.

Since it focuses so closely on one person (with just a few exceptions) it is very intimate. You get the feeling that this is not just anyone going to war but a young guy you might know and like since Tom is  gentle and  endearing.

All the original footage, that is very well-chosen, is by far more convincing than many CGI or reenactment parts of other movies.

It’s a perfect little movie that would probably even be appreciated by people who would normally never watch a war movie. Should you ever want to convince someone that the genre deserves its appreciation Overlord could be your choice to prove it.

It might also be great as a way to teach WWII in schools as there is no gratuitous violence.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) or Two Brothers Torn Apart by the Irish Civil War

The Wind that Shakes the Barley opens on a group of young men joyfully playing a game of hurling. After the game has ended we watch them return home to their modest houses. Some are still standing  together smoking and  talking, when all of a sudden a group of British soldiers approaches out of nowhere confronting them with the fact that they did break the law.  Meetings are strictly forbidden and even a game of hurling is considered to be an assemly and thus a possible act of rebellion. The scene heats up immediately when the young men answer in Gaelic upon being asked their names. The episode ends in a blood bath, one of the young men being beaten to a pulp and dead.

This is shocking. One can hardly believe one’s eyes since this is no invention. The British subjugated the Irish fiercely and anything resembling rebellion from their side ended in severe punishment.

Ken Loach´s movie The Wind that Skakes the Barley (the title is taken from an Irish Ballad)  embraces both moments in Irish history, first The Irish War of Independence and then The Irish Civil War. At the core of the story that is set in county Cork are the two O´Donovan  brothers, Damien (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy (Pádraic Delaney). At the onset of the war Damien is about to leave his native Ireland for  London where a position as a doctor at a hospital is waiting for him. Seeing the brutality and the cruelty his people face and knowing that his brother will be leading a guerilla party, he stays to join them. At that time the British government sent the  so-called “Black and Tans” to brutally reinforce their power. The old IRA started to strike back.

After long months of heavy fighting they were asked to sign a treaty which would guarantee the Irish their own government and established the Irish Free State. However six Northern counties would stay within the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.  This is the moment when the Civil War erupts and Pro Free State (headed by Michael Collins) troops fought the Anti-treaty forces. In the movie the tragedy unfolds as the brothers go different ways. Teddy accepts and supports the Free State  while Damien wants to fight until all of Ireland is  free. He believes that they have fought in vain if they give up now. It is unbelievable but the Civil War cost finally more lives than the War of Independence.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley was as  hard to watch and as depressing as L´armée des ombres. The methods applied resemble those applied by the French Resistance. They wouldn’t even shy away from killing their own in the event of betrayal. We also see people being shot and people being tortured.

This movie is also hard to watch since it reveals a really ugly aspect of the British Empire. If you are British this will be hard to accept, if you like the British it will be equally hard and if you are Irish this will truly infuriate you. One can simply not understand why the Empire had to make  the already impoverished, famished and sick Irish suffer so much. I read that this part of their history  is not really taught in English schools. I think many English people would be shocked and astonished when they see this and might understand a lot better what was ultimately behind the Troubles.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is very intense. The pictures of the beautiful, lush green countryside contrast starkly with the brutalities depicted. The story of the two brothers who end up torn apart by their conflicting ideals is very tragic. and both actors do a great job

There is no doubt that this movie deserved the Palme d´ Or it won in 2006. Even though I am sure the movie could not cover all the aspects and the whole complexity of the Wars, it raises the awareness. It´s simply stated a brilliant movie. But it is not entertaining for one second. Harsh but recommended viewing really.

Sometimes in April (2005) Part I

This is Part I of the HBO production Sometimes in April on the war in Rwanda (see Friday’s post) starring Idris Elba and Debra Winger. As I said, I haven’t seen it yet but it looks as if the whole movie has been posted in bits on YouTube. It seems well worth watching.

Some Actors of The Wire and their Roles in Recent War Movies

I am not the most avid viewer of series but there are some I did or do enjoy a lot. Six Feet Under was just excellent and so is True Blood. I also quite like Dexter. One of the best series however is The Wire, pretty awesome. Maybe you liked The Wire too and were wondering what some of the excellent actors did after  the The Wire has ended.

Set during the British Civil War, The Devil´s Whore is a very convincing historical drama.   Dominic West, Detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, stars as Oliver Cromwell. This mini series is a must-see for everybody interested in British history. It does take some liberties with some facts but still it is more than just good.

Idris Elba who played the unlikable baddie Russell “Stringer” Bell in The Wire can be seen in the leading role in Sometimes in April. I have not seen this yet but I read that it is the best movie that has been done on the war in Rwanda. Far better than Hotel Rwanda. It is a TV production, maybe that is  the reason why it is not widely known. Unlike Hotel Rwanda it really looks into the history of Rwanda and the reasons for the conflict.

Last but not least, James Ransone, who played the annoying character Ziggy Sobotka, stars as Cpl. Josh Ray Person at the side of Alexander Skarsgard in Generation Kill. A very good performance.

Ok, it is slightly off topic, but what series do you think are outstanding? Any preferences? Suggestions?