The Boys in Company C (1978)

Boys in Company C

The Boys in Company C is one of those Vietnam war movies you either like a great deal or not at all. I was surprised to find myself among those who really like it. It isn’t a masterpiece because it’s a bit patchy and the acting is not always stellar, but it has a fittingly pessimistic tone and some great scenes, which I appreciated a lot. Besides it was interesting to see the precursor of movies like Full Metal Jacket.

Vietnam movies are commonly divided into four sub-groups: allegorical-epics, veteran movies, revisionist movies and grunt/ensemble movies. The Boys from Company C is clearly a grunt movie or infantry combat movie. And it contains all the clichés of grunt movies, notably that we get to see a group of diverse people from various backgrounds and that each of them is more like a type than a real character. This is a weakness of the movie but, in a way, it wasn’t important to create characters, as the goal of the movie was another one.

Like a few of the more famous Vietnam movies it has two parts. A boot camp part and a part that takes place in Vietnam. The most interesting aspect is that the same actor, R.Lee Ermey, who plays the evil drill-instructor in Full Metal Jacket plays the drill-inspector here. He’s not as crass as in Full Metal Jacket but he sure is an unlikable character here as well.

After our group of grunts has survived the boot camp at Fort Bragg they are sent to Vietnam. There are a few combat scenes but more than anything we see how surprised our guys are when they realize that things aren’t exactly as they were told.

What are they fighting for really? And is there a justification to this war at all? There isn’t any moment in the whole film in which anyone thinks they are fighting for a good reason. Plus there’s the criticism of the military command. Officers sacrifice soldiers just to get a promotion. They order them to take hills although its impossible. They kill Vietnamese civilians to raise the body counts. The Vietnamese are shown to be just as corrupt.

The ending of the movie is unfortunately quite corny and the football game episode, which is meant to illustrate how futile and corrupt  the war is, isn’t exactly a movie highlight.

Still, this is one of the early films and it’s one of the most unambiguously anti-war. It’s dark and pessimistic. There’s no heroism, no glorifying of any acts. It’s overall very sober, has hardly any feel-good moments, hardly any music. No jungle scenes.

Sometimes I can appreciate a movie for its intentions and for its consistency.This is one of those. In my opinion, while not an artistic highlight, it’s still a must-see.

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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?