They Were Expendable (1945)

I read that John Ford’s They Were Expendable was liked by the critics but not by the public when it was released. The public thought it was too patriotic and since people were tired of the war, they didn’t care for the movie all that much.

While I often share the critics’ view, I must say, not in this case. It isn’t a bad movie, it has quite a few scenes that are good but it didn’t work for me as a whole.

At the center of the story are Commander Lt Brickley (Robert Motgomery) and his friend and second in command Lt Ryan Rusty (John Wayne). Brickley is the squadron leader of a crew of PT Boats who are to defend the Philippines just after the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.

Although Brickley is the commanding officer, Rusty is still the main character, he is also the one with a love interest (Donna Reed). For once I didn’t mind John Wayne, I would even say this is one of his better movies. Maybe because he isn’t the commanding officer.

There is a lot of emphasis on duty and honor and “getting the job done” no matter whether you will come back or not. All that is rather on the annoying side of things but what I truly liked is the battle with the speed boats. These are such neat little boats. Although it is said by an Admiral at the beginning of the movie that these boats were not likely to achieve much, their speed and agility makes them a dangerous opponent for the Japanese fleet and they manage to sink a few very big boats.  Their losses are high anyway as they are not only attacked by the Japanese boats but by their planes as well.

They Were Expendable was very important for John Ford who was one of those directors (like Capra, Huston and Wyler) who had served during WWII where he also filmed the documentary on the Battle of Midway (1942). He was chief of the Field Photographic Branch of the US Navy and also present during the Normandy invasion in 44 where he met the man who served as model for Lt. Brickley.

Funny enough what works best in this movie, apart from the speed boats, is the love story as it underlines how much the people fighting in the Pacific are in danger. The scenes with Donna Reed are quite languorous, I particularly liked the many shots with light falling through blinds. That always creates a nice atmosphere.

Something else that I appreciated is the fact that the Japanese are not demonized. They are only present through their planes and boats, we don’t see them.

While this is certainly not one of my favourites, I think it is worth watching for those who are interested in the development of the war movie genre. Despite its flaws, John Ford manages to tell the story in a very unique way with a lot of emphasis on all the individual people involved. Last but not least, I think it is a must-see for John Wayne fans as he is more interesting when he gets to play second in command.

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War Romances: A Very Long List

I’m amazed about the length of this list and even more so as I know exactly I have certainly forgotten quite a lot. It seems as if the combination of love and war was extremely well liked. Some of the movies I have included are somewhat more on the war side, like Enemy at the Gates, others are much more romantic. I was also surprised to see that I have seen a lot of them. And also liked quite a a few. Some of my favourites are Admiral, The Man Who Cried, Gloomy SundayKing Arthur, Aimée and Jaguar and The Cranes are Flying. Others like House of Fools sound interesting but I haven’t seen them. What struck me was how often the main theme is about two men falling for the same woman. Amazing. As if war wasn’t complicated enough.

A Farewell to Arms (US 1932) Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Affair between an English nurse and American soldier during World War I.

Dark Journey(UK 1937) Conradt Veidt and Vivien Leigh. Spies of from opposing sides fall in love.
Gone with the Wind (US 1939) US Civil War. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in the movie based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel.

A Yank in the RAF (US 1941) Tyrone Power and Betty Grable. Americans serving in the British forces meet and rekindle an old flame.

Casablanca (US 1942) WWII, Morocco. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in one of the greatest classics of cinema history. (See my review)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (US 1943) Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War.

Crash Dive (US 1943) Starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter and Dana Andrews. A submarine lieutenant and his commander fall in love with the same woman.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK 1943) Roger Livesey and Deborak Kerr. British soldier falls in love with various incarnations of the same woman.

To Have and Have Not (US 1944) Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in a WWII drama about an American expat and a French resistance fighter. Set on Martinique.

I’ll Be Seeing You (US 1944) Ginger Rogers, Jospeh Cotten and Shirley Temple. Soldier falls in love with a girl he meets in a train

I Live in Grosvenor Square (UK 1945) British aristocrat falls in love with American airman

Piccadilly Incident (UK 1946) WWII. War separates husband and wife with tragic consequences.

A Matter of Life and Death (UK 1946) David Niven and Kim Hunter. Pilot falls in love with radio operator.

From Here to Eternity (US 1953) WWII, Pearl Harbor. Love and drama before the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. Great actors (Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra), great story.

Battle Cry (US 1955) Love and drama among a group of young Marines.

The End of the Affair (UK 1955) Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson, John Mills in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel about a novelist who falls in love with a married woman during WWII. There is a later version of the same movie, see below.

A Town Like Alice (UK 1956) Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna starring in a WWII romance set in Asia. A British woman, POW of the Japanese, falls in love with an Australian soldier.

D-Day, The Sixth of June  (US 1956). On their way to the Normandy a US and a British officer remember their love for the same woman.

A Farewell to Arms (US 1957) Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in a movie based on Hemingway’s novel. It tells the story of an affair between an English nurse an American soldier on the Italian front during World War I.

Sayonara (US 1957) Marlon Brando as US air force major who falls in love with a Japanese performer. Based on a novel by James Michener

The Cranes are Flying (Russia 1957) WWII. Extremely moving film about a young woman who waits for her lover to return from the war. (See my review)

South Pacific (US 1958) WWII, South Pacific. A young American nurse and a Frenchman who might be an agent fall in love.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die (US 1958) WWII. Russian front. German soldier on leave falls in love.

Ballad of a Soldier (Russia 1959) A Russian masterpiece. A young soldier falls in love with a girl on a train. (See my review)

Hiroshima Mon Amour (France 1959)  WWII, Japan. A love story between a French woman and a Japanese man after the war. The woman lived a romance with a German soldier during the war. (See my review)

Doctor Zhivago (US/Italy 1965) Omar Sharif and Julie Christie starring in a war romance set during the Bolshevik Revolution. Based on the novel by Boris Pasternak.

In Harm’s Way (US 1965) A classic John Wayne movie. WWII, Pacific. A naval officer falls in love with a nurse (Patricia Neal). A story of second chances. (Here is my review).

Closely Watched Trains (Czechoslovakia 1966) WWII. Set in occupied Czechoslovakia. A young man working for the railway company falls in love for the first time. Based on Bohumil Hrabal’s novel.

Landscape After Battle (Poland 1970) Poland after WWII and the liberation of the concentration camps. A young poet falls in love with a Jewish girl.

Summmer of my German Soldier (US 1978, TV) WWII, US home front. An American girls falls in love with a German POW.

Yanks (US 1979) WWII. British woman falls in love with an American soldier while her husband is at war. Richard Gere, Vanessa Redgrave and others.

Hanover Street (UK 1979) Margaret is a nurse in England during WWII and married to a secret agent. Things get complicated when she falls for David, an American pilot. Starring Harrison Ford, Christopher Plummer and Lesley-Ann Down.

We’ll Meet Again (UK 1982 TV mini-series) WWII, Britain. American bomber pilots in the UK.

Winds of War (US 1983, TV mini-series) Robert Mitchum and Ali McGraw. WWII, America, until the attack of Pearl Harbor.

A Year of the Quiet Sun (Poland/Germany/US 1984) A US soldier in Europe falls in love with a Polish refugee after the war.

An Indecent Obsession (Australia 1985) Nurse falls in love with psychiatric patient.

Top Gun (US 1986) Not set during a real war. Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis star in this movie about a young fighter pilot who falls in love with a female instructor. Macho bravado and romance.

And a Nightingale Sang (UK 1989, TV) Starring Joan Plowright. One family’s struggle to survive during the Blitz. Funny and touching. (See my review)

The Last of the Mohicans (US 1992) Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in an epic of the war between British and French colonialists and Indians.

1942: A Love Story (India 1993) Bollywood drama  starring Anil Kapoor. A young Indian couple, both from wealthy backgrounds, find themselves caught up in the 1940’s Indian revolutionary movement against their families who are under the thumb of a sadistic British general.

Braveheart (US 1995) 13th Century Scotland. The fight against the British rule. Some love this epic, some hate it, still it’s impressive for many reasons. Starring Mel Gibson and Sophie Marceau.

The English Patient (US/UK 1996) WWII, North Africa and Italy. Two interwoven love stories. The first is the tragic story of a married woman falling for a Hungarian count. The second tells the love between a nurse and a soldier from a bomb disposal unit. With Kirstin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Willem Dafoe. (See my review)

In Love and War (US 1996) WWI, Italy. the story of the love between Ernest Hemingway and the nurse Agnes von Kurowsky starring Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock.

Aimée and Jaguar (Germany 1999) WWII, Germany. Holocaust. Two women fall in love in Berlin during the war. One of them is Jewish and in the Resistance.

The End of the Affair (UK/US 1999) Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes in the movie based on Graham Greene’s novel. A novelist falls in love with a married woman during WWII in London. She leaves him without an explanation. Two years later he has her followed to try to find out why she left him.

Gloomy Sunday (Germany/Hungary 1999) Set in WWII Budapest. Starring Joachim Król and Ben Becker. This is such a beautiful movie. Another love triangle. A young woman loves a Jewish restaurant owner. One day he hires a young pianist. She falls in love with the young man but still loves the older one. They save the life of a German man who also falls in love with the woman. When WWII breaks out the German comes back. He has turned into a Nazi officer who loves to abuse his power. Gloomy Sunday tells  also the story of the famous Hungarian song Gloomy Sunday that is said to have caused more suicides than any other song ever.

The Man Who Cried (UK/France 2000) Starring Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Christina Ricci. A Russian Jew falls in  love with a gypsy during WWII in Paris. She befriends another Russian who helps her find work in a theater. For lovers of sumptuous movies and opera.

Dark Blue World (Czech Republic/UK/Germany/Denmark/Italy 2001) Czeck fighter pilots in England in WWII. Two pilots, a very young one and an older one fall in love with the same woman.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin ( UK/US/France 2001) WWII, Italian troops in occupied Greece. Based on Luis de Bernières eponymous novel, starring Penélope Cruz and Nicolas Cage. An Italian commander falls in love with a Greek girl whose fiancée is fighting in the war as well.

Enigma (UK/US/Germany/Netherlands 2001) Dougray Scott, Kate Winslett and Jeremy Northam starring in this WWII drama about a young heartbroken man trying to break the Enigma code.

Pearl Harbor (US 2001) Real blockbuster cinema.  WWII. Pearl Harbor. Two young bomber pilots are in love with the same young woman, a nurse. Slick, good-looking movie with equally good-looking actors (Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck).

Enemy at the Gates (US/UK/Germany/Ireland 2001) Showdown of two snipers in Stalingrad. The Russian sniper is a local war hero and in love with a Jewish woman who is in the resistance. Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Ed Harris in a beautifully shot war drama. (See my review)

House of Fools (Russia/France 2002) A war movie that is no war movie. Set in a mental institution during the Chechen war.

Charlotte Gray (UK/Australia/Germany 2002) Cate Blanchett in a movie based on Sebastian Faulk’s novel. She plays a Scottish nurse who joins the French Resistance looking for her boyfriend, a RAF pilot who got lost in France.

Yossi and Jagger (Israel 2002) Love between two Israeli soldiers stationed on the Lebanese border.

Resistance (US/Netherlands 2003) Starring Bill Paxton and Julia Ormond. WWII, occupied Belgium. A reconnaissance plane crashes. The pilot, Ted, is brought to Claire and Henry Daussois who are in the Maquis Resistance. Ted and Claire fall in love.

Cold Mountain (US 2003), Renée Zellweger, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman in a story of the American Civil War.

Head in the Clouds (UK/Canada 2004) Starring Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend,Thomas Kretschmann. A romantic drama set in 1930’s England, Paris, and Spain. Three people share an apartment in Paris, one lives a hedonistic life, the others want to join the fight against fascism.

Island at War (UK 2004, TV mini-series) WWII. The channel islands during German occupation. After the island is invaded by German forces, life changes drastically. The series focuses on three families.

A Very Long Engagement (France/US 2004) Audrey Tautou in a movie about a woman whose husband doesn’t return from the battlefields of WWI and sets out to look for him.

King Arthur (US/UK/Ireland 2004) An epic adventure of war and romance starring Clive Owen, Keira Knigthley, Mads Mikkelsen, Ray Winstone and Ioan Gruffud. The re-telling of the story of King Arthur and his Knights.

The Christmas Card (US 2006, TV) A US soldier visits a town from where a Christmas card has been sent to him during his tour in Afghanistan.

The Poet (Canada 2007) A Rabbi’s daughter and a German soldier fall in love in Poland in WWII. Starring Nina Dobrev and Daryl Hannah. (See my review)

Closing the Ring (UK/Canada/US 2007) Christopher Plummer, Shirley MacLaine and Mischa Barton in a love story that plays then – during WWII – and now. A woman between two men. One is a pilot and gets lost after crash landing in Ireland during WWII. In today’s Ireland a young man finds the wedding ring and brings it to the woman living in the US. Set in Ireland and the US.

Admiral (Russia 2008) Russian revolution. A real heartbreaker. The true story of Admiral Kolchak and his lover. (Here is my review)

Dear John (US 2010) Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in a weepy romance about a young Marine who falls in love prior to 9/11. When he leaves for Iraq their love is tested.

What about you, have you seen many of these movies? Did you like them? Have I forgotten one you would like to recommend?

Historically Misleading War Movies as Seen by the TIME Magazine

I discovered an article today in TIME magazine in which they made a list of 10 historically misleading movies. As was to be expected quite a few of the movies are war movies. The whole article was spurred by the movie The King’s Speech which is also among the 10.

I will only concentrate on the war movies they name and give a brief summary why they chose to include them.

The Patriot (2000)

They critizied that The Patriot portrays British soldiers as evil. Another point was the fact that Benjamin Martin whose character was a mix of different real charcters, was shown as a family man while  Swamp Fox who was one of the real characters was no family man and actively persecuted Cherokee Indians. Further more the movie showed a total ignorance of slavery and whitewashing of history. They consider it to be pure American propaganda.

Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood tried to transform myth into history. Although it was correct to transform Richard Lionheart into a bloodthirsty monarch, the accuracy ended there.

Braveheart (1995)

This movie has, according to the TIME Magazine, too many inaccuracies to be named. How about the kilts? Scotsmen in the 13th century didn’t wear belted plaid. Gibson’s Wallace is born poor, the real Wallace was a nobleman. And why is he wielding a Chinese weapon? Wallace never met Princess Isabella and certainly did not impregnate her. At the time the movie took place she was only 9 years old anyway.

300 (2006)

Sparta was not a free city-state at all but on the contrary  known for mistreatment and exploitation of its slaves. The Persians were not as debauched as they are shown and their monarch wasn’t a circus freak.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pearl Harbor was mostly criticized for the rearranging of chronological events and its sappy simplistic nationalism.

Yeah well, not so surprising after all. At least I didn’t have the feeling any of the ones mentioned were very accurate or at least not in every element.

What strikes me is the title of the post and its explanation. They actually imply that people learn their history through the watching of movies.

For those of you who are curious about the other movies, here are the non-war movie ones: The Far Horizon, 10 000 BC, JFK, The King’s Speech, Shakespeare in Love.

Costa-Gavras’ Music Box (1989) A Court Room Drama About War Criminals

Music Box is not a war movie in the strict sense of the term, especially not since it takes place some 40 years after the war. But it is about what happened to war criminals after the war. The one or the other is still caught today. Many tried to hide in distant countries. Some live in South America but there are certainly also a lot in the US. Since I want to watch Der Stellvertreter aka Amen by Costa-Gavras, I thought it might be interesting to re-watch this one before. I remembered that it moved me quite a bit when I saw it for the first time. I found it totally gripping. As much of the suspense comes from the question whether or not the accused committed the crimes I could concentrate on other elements this time.

Just imagine for one second, someone told you, your mother, or your father was a war criminal. He is said to have left the country shortly after the war and gone to the US where he led an exemplary life as a devoted father, able worker and much liked colleague. Imagine the two of you had a very close relationship. You love the stories your father tells you about his childhood and his youth, the horrors of the war and how he managed to flee to a more welcoming country. Your son adores him, your in-laws respect him. But then, one day, the US government accuses him of being a monster and wants to extradite him to Hungary where he would be judged. That is the story of Music Box. Ann Talbot’s (Jessica Lange) father, Viktor Laszlo, a Hungarian immigrant is accused of having committed war crimes. Ann is a successful lawyer and decides, after some initial reluctance, to defend her father. She doesn’t doubt for one second that he is innocent and soon she is able to prove that there have been wrong accusations before, that the Communist countries often try to get at those who fled from them. She is outraged by the injustice that is done to her father and equally shocked by the crimes, the man who is called Mischka, has committed. Torture, executions and rape. But what is the worst he is accused of is the fact that he showed no mercy, compassion or any other signs of empathy. Mischka enjoyed what he did. Much of it took place on the banks of the Danube in Budapest, near the famous Chain Bridge. One of the last parts of this gripping court-room drama takes place in Budapest. A nice addition to the movie. Budapest is a town I am particularly fond of but when I had seen the movie for the first time, I hadn’t been there yet. I didn’t even remember that part of it was filmed there.

Jessica Lange, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Frederic Forrest, the main actors are fantastic. Armin Mueller-Stahl is one of the very great German actors. I have often problems when actors fake an accent but he does it well.

For one reason or the other, I always compare Music Box to Sophie’s Choice. I find them both equally convincing from a psychlogical point of view. Both have outstanding female actresses in main roles. And they both have this typical 80ies feel.

I was wondering how I would rate this movie. It is interesting and gripping, psychlogically accurate but doesn’t deserve 5/5. It is somewhere between 4 and 4.5 because it is a tad too sentimental.

Movies on Pearl Harbor: Pearl Harbor, Tora!Tora!Tora!, In Harm´s Way, From Here to Eternity

Any nation´s traumatic experiences have led to numerous attempts to capture the event in a movie. Pearl Harbor is no exception. There are a great many Pearl Harbor movies. Some are very well-known, others hardly at all. Some are very good, others rather not.

I would like to present four of those I have seen. Three of them are also romances, one is a pure war movie. Each and every one of them might very well get an extensive review in the future, but here, as teasers, four short glimpses at four special movies.

The one that generally everybody will immediately think of is the Jerry Bruckheimer production Pearl Harbor (2001) . The main theme is the love story of two men (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) with the same woman (Kate Beckinsale), a nurse. They are both fighter pilots and at the time when Pearl Harbor is attacked, they are stationed there. The movie starts slightly before the attack and ends shortly afterwards. It doesn’t try to show the other side. The Japanese are just plain bad. Period. As corny as this movie may be (although I think it works as a romance), it still shows an impressive re-enactment of the attack. For that and for a few exciting aviation scenes it is worth watching.

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) is really different. This US/Japanese co production is an incredible attempt at showing both sides. And it does manage to do so. The Japanese are shown in all their tragic complexity and their fear, as Admiral Yamamoto states, that all they have done is to “awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”,  is quite moving. This is the best movie if you really want to get a feel for what was happening and why the involved parties acted and reacted like they did. It is filmed as well in  English as in Japanese which heightens the authenticity. A must-see. An eye-opener. A truly good movie.

Of course there had to be a Pearl Harbor movie with John Wayne in it. Otto Preminger´s In Harm´s Way (1963) starts just shortly before the attack, shows it from the perspective of a naval ship and later follows the main characters into battle in the Pacific. It is one of those black and white all-star casts that really works (Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Dana Andrews). The acting is superb. Pictures are nice, the background story, also a love story, is convincing, and the score is very good. An enjoyable watch. Not very heavy on history but still a good movie and a fine example of a film dedicated to this disastrous event.

Don´t we all know this picture? It is one of the most famous movie stills ever. From Here to Eternity (1953) is a movie I totally love. It is my favourite of the four, even though I must admit Tora! Tora! Tora! is way more informative. The story that is based on the novel of James Jones is  intense and dramatic.  The acting is fabulous. Go and try to find this nowadays.  From Here to Eternity is also an all-star cast, with Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. This movie is one of the very great classics, right up there with Casablanca. Yes, that’s what I think. A movie to watch and re-watch. It has won multiple Oscars. You can see Monty in one of his best roles ever. Pearl Harbor is not the movie´s main theme but it does end with the attack on Pearl Harbor. It tells the stories and love stories  of different army soldiers on the eve of the attack  and somehow seems to juxtapose the tales of the people, their sorrows and woes with this national catastrophe.

One thing is for sure, pick any of them and you will not regret it. Even Pearl Harbor is at least good  old escapist entertainment.

African American Soldiers in War Movies

It is a fact that until recently African American actors were almost nonexistent in war movies. This is quite unfair since they were also fighting for their country. Even though they are not omnipresent in today´s war movies, they seem to get a fairer share.

The makers of Generation Kill faced quite some questioning as to the reasons why there was no African American cast in the series. As fishy as this may have seemed initially there was a very good explanation for this. Generation Kill is based on the true story of the First Recon Company, a highly specialized troop, in which there were actually no African American soldiers, or only one, as we can deduce from the group photo in Evan Wright´s book.

The questioning however was very justified since there is really no war movie on contemporary conflict in which there are no African American actors. Be it Battle for Haditha, Redacted, The Hurt Locker, Stop-Loss, Home of the Brave and many more. There are always African American actors and this is highly justified since many of the troops are of said origin.

How does the situation look regarding other wars? For example Vietnam? When it comes to combat movies – with the exception of We Were Soldiers – black soldiers are very often present. The best example is certainly Hamburger Hill that has a big African American cast. But they are not absent from Platoon or Full Metal Jacket either. Now what about We Were Soldiers? I honestly don´t know. Since it is based on a true story it might be possible that there were no African American soldiers in that company. If anyone knows the reason, tell me please.

WWII is another story altogether. Looking at the massive production of WWII movies it is incredible how absent African American actors are. Sure there are a few exceptions. A Soldier’s Story that I reviewed a while back is a good example. And then we have the Tuskegee Airmen based on the true story of the African-American 332nd Fighter Group of the Army Aircorps (see my movie review). This fine movie illustrates how unjustified the belief was that Blacks were not capable of flying modern fighters. But apart from these two examples? And what about Flags of our Fathers? It´sad to say that there were 900 black troops participating in the battle of Iwo Jima but not one of them is represented in Eastwood´s movie. He has been questioned many times and asked to clarify but he did not reply. This infuriated many people, among them the film director Spike Lee. I think his Miracle at St. Anna might be a direct response to Eastwood´s omission. It is actually incredible but the absence of African American actors in Flags of our Fathers makes Pearl Harbor look good in comparison. At least  Cuba Gooding Jr had quite an important role. Spike Lee´s just mentioned Miracle at St. Anna focuses on the 92nd Infantry Division that fought in Italy. This division was the result of the segregation of the times. It was a purely African-American division, also called Buffalo soldiers  (I must admit that I have not seen Miracle at St. Anna but read many reviews that did NOT appreciate it). I think we are still waiting for a truly good depiction of African American participation in WWII.

And WWI? I am lost. Have no clue if there ever was  a WWI movie with African Americans in it.

Let´s rewind some more: The Civil War. And yes here we finally find an outstanding movie with a largely African American cast. One of my Top 10. Yes, I am talking about Glory. If you haven´t seen it yet, watch it.

Looking at the whole picture again we can say, it is getting somewhat better, but a contemporary movie, based on a conflict younger than the civil war, with an African American main actor is still outstanding. Now, don´t mention Hotel Rwanda (Don Cheadle was actually also in Hamburger Hill). Although it is an impressive movie  there was really no chosing a white main actor. Not even Clint Eastwood would have had the insipidity to do so.

Is Passchendaele (2008) the new Pearl Harbor (2001)?

“The British couldn´t do it, the French couldn´t do it. It´s  only us, the Canadian corps” (quote from the movie).

I was  tempted to write: “Once we had Pearl Harbor now we have Passchendaele” and leave it at that. But that won´t do. I´m afraid I must say, that this would have been an easy escape in terms of criticism for Passchendaele. And extremely unfair to Pearl Harbor. This coming from someone who thinks that Pearl Harbor does not even deserve the label “war movie”.

The story in a few words: As the war went on Canadians were getting more and more involved. Being only a little nation at the time, the participation of 600000 was enormous. 1 out of 10 did not come back. At Passchendaele alone 4 000 Canadians died and 12 000 were wounded. This unspeakable tragedy is meant to be shown. To illustrate this we see the exemplary story of one Sgt. who comes back after having fought at Ypern, on Vimy ridge etc. He’s a decorated war hero but shell-shocked. He has done something unspeakable and cannot forgive himself (apparently this bit is taken from Paul Gross´grandfather´s story of his participation in WWI). He is really bad off and won´t have to return. But, as some sort of love sacrifice (not going into details here I leave all the enjoyment of watching this movie and discover a piece of subtle sophisticated filmmaking to you. YES… I´m being sarcastic.), he goes back and ends up fighting at Passchendaele. This is one of the biggest and most notorious battles off WWI. Initially a success for the Canadians and their allies, in the end a failure due to the fact that a few months later Passchendaele was lost again to the Germans.

Watching Passchendaele I was feeling extremely stupid. Why did it escape my attention that this was again a hero + nurse + absurd conflict romance disguised as war movie? Unfortunately the romance part is nowhere near as good as the one from Pearl Harbor (Yes, I think Pearl Harbor is a very entertaining romance, well done). And the war parts? They are odd to say the least. We do see quite a bit of fighting. Between town ruins and in moors and muddy trenches. The odd bits reminded me of  Windtalkers (so watch out all you who liked Windtalkers). Many explosions, one unconvincing “in the trench of the enemy scene” plus, this was quite original, people keep on flying like puppets. Oh and… I almost forgot this…the way the Canadians are depicted is priceless. What a jolly crowd. Jolly, jolly, jolly. They never stop laughing not even when they are torn apart or their comrades come flying over their heads. Why? What in the name of everything does this mean? One last word: the conversations are among the worst ever heard. In the trench Sgt Dunne actually says to his lover´s young brother, explaining the war : “Forests burn cos they have to, oceans go up and down cos they have to…and I don´t think we are that different…(…) this is something we do cos we are good at it…” Forests burn cos they have to, eh? The inherent nature of the forest is to burn? Very deep. Abysmal.

You know what? Even though many Canadians appreciated this movie (probably purely because at last their heroic participation was brought to our awareness. NO. I´m not being sarcastic now.). … I think they would have deserved better. To be really blunt: I think this movie is shit.

Be it as it may, there is one good bit related to the death of the nurse´s father – no I won´t tell what it is – and I am sure: this movie has and will have its fans.

If I had watched the trailer before buying the DVD I would at least have known about the romance bit. Can´t judge a film by its cover, can we ? (Liked this one too much for my own good).