The Veteran (2011)

Veteran

The British movie The Veteran is asking a few interesting questions but the story as such isn’t  very convincing. Too bad. It had potential.

What happens with all those young veterans coming home from wars like Afghanistan or Iraq? Their tours are finished and when they return they have to face the bitter truth that it will be hard for them to find a job and that people really don’t care about them.

Rob is just a guy like that. When he returns from Afghanistan all he finds is an ugly apartment in one of the areas of London were the less privileged live. Drug wars and gang feuds are common. Unemployment is high.

One of his comrades approaches him and tells him his brother offers them a job. The job they are offered is pretty typical for veterans. Surveillance. They are told they have to follow potential terrorists and find out if one of the informants they are using is really trustworthy.

Rob gets beaten up pretty bad during some of his missions and after a while it dawns on him that something is dodgy. Too late.

I’m not going to reveal more of the plot as it’s pretty thin. The movie is still watchable as it depicts a lot of the problems the UK are facing. Not only regarding their veterans but also regarding the many young and  unemployed people.

It’s an interesting companion movie to Harry Brown and also to the US series Homeland. The acting is pretty good but the story a bit too thin. And the message? I have no clue. That’s probably what bothered me the most.

Before I end this post I just want to let know that I will not be online during the next two weeks. I’m travelling.

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Harry Brown (2009) Michael Caine Starring as WWII Vet

If Gran Torino had been good it would have been Harry Brown. This is one hell of a gritty movie. A pretty unvarnished look at today’s Britain. If you are in a somewhat no-future, modern-life-is-pointless-and-ugly mood, better stay away from Harry Brown as it will certainly not cheer you up. If you like movies like Let the Right One In (The Swedish film!!!), then you might like it although there are no vampires in this movie, only very ugly and depraved humans.

Harry Brown (Michael Cane) is a lonely man. He spends his time visiting his wife at the hospital or playing chess with his only friend Leonard. When his wife dies there is only Leonard left. The two men live in the same depressing housing estate, somewhere on the outskirts of a big British city. Local gangs are roaming the neighbourhood day and night and some of the places and pedestrian walkways are far from safe. Violence and drug trafficking go on, people who pass are molested and harmed. The kids from the gangs are a bunch of real scum, the lowest of the low. No education, no future, only using and abusing.

Harry and Leonard regularly meet in a bar nearby where they play chess. Leonard has been the gangs’ target for a while. They hustle him, threaten him, shove dog shit into his letter box. The old man is terrified and cannot take it any longer. One afternoon he tells his friend that he is now armed. He is carrying an old bayonet and, if necessary, will defend himself.

Not long after this conversation two detectives (Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed-Miles) come to see Harry Brown to tell him, that his friend has been killed. Beaten up and stabbed to death. Four young blokes are arrested, one more horrible than the other, some in and out of prison and coming from families in which the father, uncle or some other male relative is constantly in prison. The police questioning shows them from their ugliest side. They verbally abuse the female detective, swear and cheer because they know there is no evidence.  Despite their obvious violent tendencies, the police have to let them go.

And that’s when Harry Brown takes a decision. He will avenge his friend. After the first gang members and drug dealers are found dead, the police now shifts from looking for the murderers to trying to catch a vigilante.

Up to now it may seem as if it wasn’t justified to include Harry Brown in this blog but the fact that Harry Brown is an ex-Marine and has served in WWII is important and gets even more important from the moment he decides to take justice into his own hands.

This isn’t a glossed over movie with a tacky ending, this is a tale that might happen, that shows an ugly reality that is far from overdrawn. It also takes a close look at the frailty and loneliness old age can bring.

Harry Brown is one of those old-school soldiers who never spoke about what happened in the war, who possibly tried to avoid thinking of it. The loss of his wife and friend and the brutality of the murder triggers something and liberates him.

Funny enough, this is as well a movie of vengeance as a movie of closure. It’s not pretty, it’s not nice but it’s highly watchable and it shows an absolutely excellent Michael Caine.

Battle for Haditha (2007) A Powerful Movie on the War in Iraq

The British movie Battle for Haditha is one of the best war movies on the war in Iraq because it manages to capture the complexity of the situation. It’s an extremely moving film that for once doesn’t glorify anything and achieves to show the ugly truth. It tells the true story of the cruel massacre of 24 civilians amongst which were women and children.

In 2005 a group of US Marines was ambushed by Iraqi insurgents. One of the officers got killed, two others were severely wounded. The remaining ones went on a killing spree that cost the lives of those civilians. For this war crime the commanding office was awarded a bronze medal. The US Army tried to cover up the whole story but four months later eye-witnesses told the truth.

As ugly as this story is Battle for Haditha doesn’t blame anyone but shows in great detail the parties involved in this massacre. Even if the movie doesn’t ultimately blame the US Marines, and in particular Cpl Ramirez whose nerves were on edge, it does point a finger at the US government. And rightly so.

The movie moves back and forth between three different viewpoints and ties three very different stories together. We see those young Marines who often join the Army because they have no chance to do anything else. They are shipped to Iraq but haven’t really got a clue what they are doing there. They face severe hostilities, they frequently come under fire, they are blown up and shot at and stressed out.

While the group around Cpl Ramirez moves toward the city of Haditha, two Iraqi men join the Mujaheddin and are instructed how and where to bury a bomb that they will also detonate with a mobile phone. The street that has been chosen is frequently used by Army convoys or reconnaissance on the way to Haditha. The two men have to hide in an empty building and survey the street until an US Army vehicle shows up and then blow up the bomb.

Close by is a housing complex in which two extended families live who are preparing for a party. One of them sees those men digging and they know what will happen. They are extremely scared. Should they report it, they might be executed by the Mujaheddin, if they don’t they might be arrested by the US Army. It’s a big Iraqi family, many children but also the parents and grandprents live together. They are very close and affectionate.

The two men who bury the bomb are just simple men without any political convictions. They are afraid of the Mujaheddin and they are dirt poor. Helping the Mujaheddin is a way to make some money and they do not foresee the consequences. Besides they are promised glory in heaven.

Broomfiled chose hardly any real actors and especially no stars to give this movie an even more authentic feel. The parts of the movie that show the Iraqi insurgents and the family are spoken in Arabic and subtitled which further enhances authenticity.

As far as anti-war movies go, this is a great movie. I think it also manages to illustrate some of the complex feelings and thoughts of all the parties involved.

The biggest achievement however is that Battle for Haditha manages to show us one or many likable characters in each of the three groups. They are all just humans hoping for a better life. One of the likable characters is the unfortunate Cpl Ramirez who, when he sees that one of his friends was killed, literally loses it. I don’t know what became of him. The worst is that the High Command tried to cover up the whole story and tried to justify the war despite every single incident pointing out its injustice.

We Dive at Dawn (1943) A Very Decent British Submarine Movie

I think Das Boot made every, but absolutely every submarine/U-Boot movie redundant. What’s there to say after a final statement? What is there to add to perfection? Das Boot is one of the best war movies and one of the best movies in general and THE best U-Boot movie there is. Why watch and review any others? Because there was a time before Das Boot. And submarines are not U-Boots, guess you get my drift.

We Dive at Dawn came out during the war so it is not surprising that it is propagandist.

The movie starts aboard the British submarine HMS Sea Tiger just before the crew swarms out on a seven-day leave that is aborted after just a few hours. They are sent on a secret mission after the German battleship Brandenburg heading for the Baltic sea. When finally encountering the battleship they are heavily attacked by the destroyers who flank the Brandenburg. We have the familiar elements like crash diving, torpedoing and being depth-charged. They seem to lose the fight and only a very shrewd trick helps them to escape. However they have no clue if their mission is accomplished and when diving up again realise that they have run out of fuel. What to do next? One of the crew suggests to land in Denmark and try to refuel there. Of course that is occupied territory and we get to see some fighting on land.

Submarine movies are interesting for many reasons. The hardware used as an arm is also the living space of the crew. There is an interesting difference in US and UK movies regarding the crew. Let me quote from Under Fire (p.181)

Whereas the American war film will often feature an ethnic and regional smorgasbord of characters, the british version involves Cockneys, Scots and Yorkshiremen like Eric Portman’s hydrophone operator, Hobson, whose marital difficulties are making him a surly chap.

John Mills who is in an incredible number of British war movies of the time stars as the captain of the Sea Tiger (e.g.Ice Cold in Alex, The Colditz Story (so far one of my favourite POWs), Above us the Waves, Dunkirk). He is a good actor. No doubt about that.

All in all this is a decent movie. Interesting characters and side stories, gripping combat (not that land bit, that is so so). We Dive at Dawn is a black and white movie which enhances the atmosphere.

I haven’t seen all that many submarine movies. Once I have had a chance to watch and review a few more I will be able to give a decent evaluation. For the time being, should you only watch one sub movie in your lifetime, then stick to Das Boot but if you like the genre, don’t miss We Dive at Dawn.

I couldn’t find a trailer but added an excerpt instead.