Tag Archives: War films

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

Director-David Lean

Starring-William Holden, Alec Guinness 

Scott’s Review #908

Reviewed June 11, 2019

Grade: A

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is a war film that serves as an example of character driven story-telling from the perspective of each person. Films of this genre frequently do not steer too far from the straight and narrow showcasing the war event perspective so that this often becomes larger than the humanity piece. A key is the American, British, and Japanese points of view hurling the grand epic experience into a more personal one. The film was awarded numerous Oscar nominations culminating with a Best Picture of the year victory.

The time is early 1943 amid the powerful and destructive World War II when a group of British prisoners of war (POW) arrive at a Japanese camp. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) commands all prisoners regardless of rank to begin work on a railway bridge that will connect Bangkok with Rangoon. The British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses manual labor and a battle of wills erupts between the two men. Meanwhile, an American, Commander Shears (William Holden), also being held at the same camp, vows to destroy the bridge to avoid court martial.

The complexities of the relationships between the men are the main draw of the film and an aspect that can be discussed at length. Each possesses a firm motivation, but the emotions teeter back and forth as they face various conflicts. Each of the three principals are analytical juggernauts in the human spirit, ranging from courageous, cowardly, and even evil. We are supposed to root for Shears and supposed to not root for Saito but why is that not so cut and dry? Is Shears too revenge minded? We cheer Nicholson’s resilience but is he too stubborn for his own good?

The film’s whistling work theme nearly became famous when the film was originally released in 1957. Ominous and peppered with a macabre depression, the prisoners go about their work in a near ode to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cheerier “Whistle While You Work” anthem. As they dutifully continue to build the bridge the audience feels a sense of dread and a foreboding atmosphere. What will ultimately happen? When two prisoners are shot dead while attempting to escape the film takes a different turn.

Given that David Lean, responsible for such epic masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and A Passage to India (1984), directs The Bridge on the River Kwai, should be telling as far as the sweeping exterior landscape treats in store for the viewer. The lavish Asian landscape, so picturesque and beautiful, is peaceful amid the chaos and vile way the prisoners are treated. This imbalance is wonderfully rich and poignant against the robust story telling.

The climax of the film is bombastic (literally!) and a nail-biting experience resulting in a stabbing, an explosion, and a heap of tension. A train carrying important dignitaries and soldiers is racing towards the newly constructed bridge as one man is intent on detonating a bomb and cause destruction as another races against time to prevent the bloodbath. The suspense, action, and cinematic skill is placed front and center during the final act.

Deserving of each one of the accolades reaped on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the film is the thinking man’s war film. Layered with an underlying humanistic approach and little violence given the subject matter at hand, one can sink into empathy for each point of view presented instead of being force fed a one-dimensional message film. Fine acting and gorgeous cinematography make this film one to be forever remembered.

From Here to Eternity-1953

From Here to Eternity-1953

Director-Fred Zinnemann

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr

Scott’s Review #875

Reviewed March 7, 2019

Grade: A

Based on a popular novel of the same name, written by James Jones in 1952, From Here to Eternity (1953) tells a powerful story of romance and drama set against the gorgeous backdrop of Hawaii. The film is poignant and sentimental for its build-up to the World War II Pearl Harbor attacks, further enhancing the story-telling. With great acting and compelling story, the film is a bombastic Hollywood creation that conquers the test of time remaining timeless.

A trio of United States Army personnel are stationed on the sunny island of Oahu. First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), and Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) are the main principals and their life in the Schofield Army Barrack is chronicled. They are joined by respective love interests Alma Lorene (Donna Reed) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) and the triumphs and sorrows of each are explored in dramatic fashion prior to the devastating incident set to take place.

The perspective of the film is centered around the male characters which risks the film being classified as a “guy’s movie” but it really isn’t. There exists enough melodrama and romance to offset the testosterone and masculinity and as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives a broader canvas is painted. This point is to the film’s credit as each character is rich with development, sympathy, or sometimes pure anger.

Many films have been told, and continue to be told throughout the decades, of the terrors and after-effects of World War II but From Here to Eternity remains towards the top of the heap. While not going full throttle with too much violence or grit, the film tells of the trials and tribulations of people effected by and soon to be affected by the war. The characters co-exist peacefully in their own little slice of the world though there is the occasional bullying or insubordination among the ranks, but the romance soon takes center stage followed by the dire attacks.

The smoldering beach scene featuring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the ravaging shores of Halona Cove is as iconic as a cinematic moment ever existed. Rumors of the stars torrid love affair and need to run off to make love after shooting the scene could be pure myth but have never been dis-proven either. Reportedly the camera crew shot the scene quickly and left the duo to their desires. Regardless, the scene may very well cause the iciest of hearts to turn into a torrent of heart pounding flutters.

The film suddenly takes a dark turn as if realizing that it is a film about a devastating war. A major character dies and another character goes on the hunt for revenge. Despite these deaths not being at the hands of an enemy or a battle they are nonetheless powerful and dims the mood of the film. Finally, the attack on Pearl Harbor is upon us just as the audience no doubt will sense is coming and ends in a sad way with simple dialogue between the two main female characters.

Thanks to fine direction by novice director Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity (1953) elicits a pure breadth of emotions and subject matters. At its core a cynical film, the picture is also rich with courage, integrity, and love of one’s country without suffering from any phony false patriotism. With a dash of romance and sexuality the film is utterly memorable and deserving of the hefty Academy Awards it achieved.

Night Train to Munich-1940

Night Train to Munich-1940

Director-Carol Reed

Starring-Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #855

Reviewed January 9, 2019

Grade: B

Night Train to Munich (1940) is a taut war thriller unique in the subject matter of World War II made before the war became full-blown and all the horrors not known. The film has a measure of tie-in with The Lady Vanishes (1938), an Alfred Hitchcock project with familiar crossover characters. The final thirty minutes of the film are spectacular in excitement and chase scenes, but the overly complex plot takes way too long to take-off, leaving me underwhelmed and bored through most of the experience.

In March 1939 a Czechoslovakian scientist, Axel (James Harcourt) is wanted for questioning by the German Gestapo. Residing in Britain, they accost his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) and throw her in a concentration camp. She meets fellow prisoner and assumed ally Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid) who escapes with her to the safety of London. He is revealed to be a Gestapo agent assigned to gain her trust and question her father. Finally, Anna meets undercover British intelligence officer Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison) who poses as a Nazi officer to take Anna and her father to safety.

The first forty-five minutes to an hour of Night Train to Munich is slow moving with a complicated and rather uninteresting plot. I am all for slow moving films provided the setup is there and the elements align properly. I felt shammed since the cover art and title of the film suggest a more robust experience and I found myself continuing to ask, “Where is the train?” and “Where is the mountainous terrain and ski lift?” as pictured.  These elements finally do arrive, but the wait is longer than necessary.

The fact that Karl and Dickie are similar in physical appearance and are both undercover make the average viewer a bit confused. Plus, it takes a while to realize who is playing for whose team and since the film is related to The Lady Vanishes I expected a bit more of the suspense and intrigue commonplace with a Hitchcock telling. The core of the film is mediocre.

Yet the above criticisms can be almost forgiven when events kick into high gear and Night Train to Munich becomes an entirely different film. A riveting train ride bring enormous treats and intrigue as Dickie, Anna, and Axel attempt to outwit Karl and escape before their train arrives in Munich. The fun becomes the cat and mouse game between the group when a secret note is hidden under a doughnut as they sip tea together and feign pleasantries in one of the film’s best scenes.

The ravishing mountaintop finale is breathtaking when Dickie attempts to transport everyone via a ski lift from Germany to the safety of Switzerland over perilously high mountains.  The suspense reaches a boiling point when Karl and the Gestapo are hot on his heels. As a wild shootout commences we know not whether those on the lift will be saved. A pot boiler reaches a shocking crescendo as the seconds tick by. For 1940 the sets and effects are remarkably impressive and believable rather than silly or staged.

Introduced in the final segment are humorous characters from another film, The Lady Vanishes. A late entry into the story, nonetheless they breathe life into the script making it as suspenseful as much as a yarn. British gentlemen Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford) add humor and sophisticated wit as they aid the group’s successful escape. I wondered if the pair were gay since the men appeared in The Lady Vanishes, and the esteemed director known for slyly adding discreet LGBT characters into his pictures.

Slightly above a middling affair Night Train to Munich (1940) has impressive moments and a startlingly good ending worth the price of admission. The main portion of the film feels tired and overlong with not enough gravy to keep viewers caring for very long. An interesting double feature would be to watch thus film side by side with The Lady Vanishes for similar concepts and theme.

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

All Quiet on the Western Front-1930

Director-Lewis Milestone

Starring-Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim

Scott’s Review #820

Reviewed October 12, 2018

Grade: A

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is one of the oldest films that I have ever seen, and a masterpiece that resonates in present times just as much as the film did nearly one hundred years ago. The work of art presents an astounding anti-war message that is a timeless lesson in humanity, idealism, and ultimately, despair. Based on the banned novel by Erich Maria Remarque, much of the action takes place on the front lines during World War I.

The cameras follow an anxious group of spirited young men as they sit in a classroom and listen to a passionate speech given by their professor. He is quite “pro war”, filling the boys with patriotism and the importance of serving the Army and their country. At his urging the group, led by Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) join the Second Company. Once enlisted, the youths are enlightened to the fact that war is not fun, and their romantic delusions are smashed to pieces.

Paul is clearly the hero of the film and events are told through his eyes, offering his perspective. Beginning as a young recruit, he ages quickly and sees friends and allies slaughtered senselessly. One recruit, frightened to death, is blinded by shrapnel and hysterically runs into machine-gun fire resulting in his death. Other scenes involving the soldiers forced to go without food only to finally be offered second helpings simply because there are so many dead, is heart-wrenching.

Paul is portrayed as a good man- conflicted by how he is “supposed” to feel towards the enemy and how he sees people as human beings. At the young age of nineteen he possesses an innocence towards the world. When he returns home on leave the townspeople have no inclination of the ravages of war. When Paul recounts the brutal situations on the front line, he is derided as a “coward”.

In an excruciating scene Paul is trapped overnight in a fox hole with a dying French soldier, whom Paul has stabbed in a cemetery. He desperately tries to save the man’s life, but to no avail. In this important scene Paul sees the enemy soldier as a human being rather than as someone to hate. He crumbles into tears for the dead soldier, begging him to speak. The scene is incredibly poignant and meaningful.

The final scene of All Quiet on the Western Front is lovely and memorable too. In fact, the scene is the most remembered from the film and firmly ensconced in cinematic history. As a wounded Paul lies in hiding from German soldiers, he spots a beautiful butterfly peacefully circling around. Paul smiles, enamored with the pretty creature amid all the ugliness. He desperately tries to reach for the gorgeous insect. What happens next is heartbreaking and fraught with the unfair ruining of life- the scene is of utmost importance.

The film is both sad and poignant as we are well into the twenty-first century while wars continue to wage on in present day. Have we learned nothing? Director, Lewis Milestone brazenly, and tragically, paints a portrait of the foolishness of war and the senseless loss of life that war results in. It is tough to think of an equivalent film that depicts this message in a clearer way.

Many European leaders and countries, Germany’s Adolf Hitler included, banned All Quiet on the Western Front throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s. The film has remained controversial in its blatant depiction of war since it was made.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is a groundbreaking film and ought to be viewed by everyone as a reminder of how precious life really is. The novel and film were both made as a result of World War I- how profound to think since this film was made wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, have occurred. Is war ever really the answer? Anyone who watches this terrific film will find the answer.

Saving Private Ryan-1998

Saving Private Ryan-1998

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore

Scott’s Review #778

Reviewed June 26, 2018

Grade: A

Famed director Steven Spielberg does not always get his due respect. This is usually because, for better or worse, he has become synonymous with the “blockbuster” film, drawing comparisons to  either lightweight fare or films of “lesser” artistic merit. His 1980’s works- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), were enormous commercial successes, though I personally enjoyed all of these films.

During the 1990’s Spielberg continued to direct “popcorn flicks” such as Hook (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993), with large studio budgets, but with somewhat less critical acclaim. Finally, he was able to change many opinions with 1993’s Schindler’s List and the war film to end all war films, Saving Private Ryan (1998), an epic, profound experience. Both received numerous Oscar nominations and success at the box office.

The film is a tremendous treat if for nothing other than the riveting opening sequence alone (more about that later). If that is not enough to impress, Saving Private Ryan is known for infusing a very graphic element into the war film- with no letting up from the brutality. In this way Spielberg does no watering down with this picture, instead showing pain and angst of war. The film is helped tremendously by the casting of Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks, who leads an enormous cast of mainly young men.

Saving Private Ryan opens with a prologue- in present times a veteran brings his family to visit an American cemetery at Normandy. Flashbacks then take the audience back to the Omaha Beach debacle in 1944, where American troops faced deadly German artillery attacks in France. After the horrific three day D-Day, it is learned that three of the four Ryan sons have died in the events. Captain Miller (Hanks) is ordered to bring a team of men to Normandy and bring the fourth Ryan son (Matt Damon) to safety.

Spielberg’s opening D-day sequence is just astounding and propels the film to unforgettable status. With a running time of twenty-four minutes, the riveting and horrific slaughter of American soldiers is brought to the screen in intense fashion. Audiences undoubtedly sat open mouthed (I know I did!) as bullets riddled the beach and left soldiers killed or with limbs torn off. The camera-work is brilliant as the use of a shaky technique, almost documentary style is used for effect. Successful is this sequence at promoting an anti-war sentiment while not glorifying the combat at all. The scene is one that will stay with its audience for years to come.

Saving Private Ryan can be compared to the decades later Dunkirk (2017) in that each film took the war genre and turned it upside down.  The similarities between the films start with the obvious- the main events in both films are during World War II, the same week, and the French beach settings making the films perfect companion pieces.  Both films feature a gray, rainy setting with many horrific moments of death and suffering. The war film is a common genre that has historically teetered on predictability and over-saturation, but both films do something completely different and unexpected, yet mirror each other in style.

To counter-balance the violence in the opening sequence, a quiet scene is created and remains one of my favorites. The scene contains almost no dialogue throughout the seven minute duration and is pivotal to the entire film. As a typist realizes that three letters of death are to be delivered to the same family, a woman on a mid-west farm quietly washes dishes and is calmly horrified when she sees a government car approaching. What else can this mean but that one of her sons is dead? The poor Mrs. Ryan will be told that she has lost not one, but three sons. How utterly unimaginable and the scene is incredibly touching!

The best part of Saving Private Ryan is that Spielberg provides a deep level of sentimental vision combined with the terrible atrocities of war. He portrays not only the violent effects of the battles on the soldiers, but also on the surviving families. This is not always done in war films, at least not to the level that Spielberg chooses to.

With such a film as the startling Saving Private Ryan (1998), Spielberg turned the war film genre inside out. Breaking barriers with a no holds gusto, Spielberg influenced war films for years to come- Black Hawk Down and Enemy at the Gates (2001) are prime examples, and received acclaim from fellow directors for his interesting techniques. Saving Private Ryan was an enormous financial winner at the box office, proving that great films don’t have to be watered down to find an audience.

Schindler’s List-1993

Schindler’s List-1993

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Scott’s Review #775

Reviewed June 19, 2018

Grade: A

Schindler’s List (1993) is a film that is arguably Steven Spielberg’s finest directorial work and Liam Neeson’s finest acting performance. The film is as disturbing as it is awe inspiring as many emotions will undoubtedly envelope any viewer- most of them dark and dire. Spielberg’s most personal story centers on the devastating Holocaust of World War II that will grip and tear audiences to pieces. The work deservedly secured the Oscar award for Best Picture and Best Director as well as numerous other accolades.

Oskar Schindler (Neeson) is a powerful German businessman who arrives in Krakow, Poland during the antics of World War II, presumably to make his fortune. Handsome and respected, he is charismatic and feared by the German army, who have forced most of the Polish Jews into the overcrowded ghettos where they await their fates. Schindler himself is a Nazi, but becomes more humanistic than most and ultimately against the Holocaust killings. He establishes a factory and hires a Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) to assist.

As he is tremendously affected by the inhumanity he sees all throughout the city, he makes arrangements to hire and thus save the lives of over a thousand Polish refugees. He does so by allowing them to safely work and be productive in his factory. The story is reportedly true and was a rare instance of humanity in a cold and ugly chapter in world history.

To be clear, Schindler does not start off as a hero and is admittedly rather an unlikely one. The man is a businessman, greedy, and undoubtedly flawed. He plans to use the Jews because they are cheap labor and can be used to his advantage. Because of the very lengthy running time of the film (over three hours) Spielberg slowly depicts Schindler’s complex character growth and eventual determination to save these poor people from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Spielberg shoots Schindler’s List entirely in black and white with tremendous results. The camera works adds such ambiance and style to the 1990’s film- so much so that throughout the film I felt as if I were watching a documentary from the 1940’s. The film is epic and choreographed with precision and timeliness- some of the best camera work in cinema history as far as successfully creating the perfect solemn and dreary mood.

Supporting turns by Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes must be noted. In vastly different types of roles, both shine. As the understandably nervous, Jewish accountant for Schindler’s factory, Itzhak Stern is most notable for creating the famous “list”. This contains the names of those who would be transferred to the factory and thus have their lives spared. Kingsley, a brilliant actor, fills the character with empathy and heart.

Conversely, Fiennes plays a dastardly character in that of Amon Goth, a commander at the concentration camp. Evil and known for taking glee from killings, he is the man instrumental in deciding to exterminate all of the people in the ghetto. A pivotal character, Goth is important because he is the man who makes Schindler realize how sickening and inhumane the treatment is. Fiennes carves the character with so much hate that he is believable in the part.

One of the most beautiful scenes is aptly named “the girl in red” and is highly symbolic and worthy of analysis. Oskar watches as prisoners are escorted, presumably to their executions. He notices a three-year-old girl walking by herself- she is clad in a bright red coat. The coat is Spielberg’s only use of color throughout the entire film. The scene is incredibly important as the girl stands out, proving that all the Nazi commanders are accepting of her death. In tragic form, Oskar later sees her dead body draped in her red coat. The scene is sad and powerfully distressing.

Schindler’s List (1993) is an outstanding film that elicits such raw emotion from anyone who view’s the masterpiece. Certainly by no means an easy watch and most assuredly “a heavy”, the film depicts the true struggles and catastrophic events occurring not all too long ago. A film for the ages that simply must be seen by all to appreciate the terror and inhumanity that occurs throughout the world.

Dunkirk-2017

Dunkirk-2017

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #666

Reviewed July 24, 2017

Grade: A

Of the hundreds of war films that have been made over the years, most have a similar style with either a clear patriotic slant, or, of a questioning/message type nature. Regardless, most  have a certain blueprint from the story to the visuals to the direction- and rarely stray from this. The genre is not my particular favorite as the machismo is  usually overdone  and too many  of the films turn into standard “guy films”, or the “good guys versus the bad guys”. Finally, along comes a film like Dunkirk that gives the stale genre a good, swift, kick in the ass.

The story is both simple, yet historical. In 1940, Nazi Germany, having successfully invaded France, pushes thousands of French and British soldiers to a seaside town named Dunkirk.  With slim hopes of rescue or survival, the soldiers are sitting ducks for the raid of German fighter planes, who drop bombs both on the soldiers and rescue ships. In parallel stories, a kindly British civilian (Mark Rylance) and his son sail to Dunkirk to help rescue the soldiers, and two British fighter pilots chase the German fighter planes, attempting to thwart their deadly intentions.

One will immediately be struck by the pacing of the film as it is non-stop action from start to close. The action, combined with very little dialogue, and an eerie musical score, are what make the film feel so unique and fresh. Directed by Christopher Nolan, (The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) critics are heralding this film as his greatest work yet- I tend to agree.  Scenes involving such differing musical scores as screechy violins mixed with thunderous, heavy beats, really shake up the film and keep the audience on their toes as to what is coming next.

An interesting facet to the film, and certainly done on purpose, is that the backstories of the characters are not revealed- we know very little about any of them.  Do they have families? Are they married? This is a beautiful decision by the screenwriters and by Nolan.  For instance, the very first scenes involve a disheveled private, named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead).  Panicked, he runs through the streets in pursuit of the beach, where he meets a fellow soldier named Gibson, who is burying another soldier in the sand. Together, they find a wounded soldier and carry him to a departing ship- the men never speak, but communicate through their eyes and gestures-it is  a powerful series of scenes.

Another positive to Dunkirk is the anonymity of the enemy. The German soldiers are never shown. Certainly, we see many scenes of the fighter planes overhead, pummeling the soldiers with bombs, and pulsating gunfire in various scenes, but the mystique of  the enemy troops is a constant throughout the film. The faceless component to the villains adds a terror and haunting uncertainty.  In this way, the film adds to the audiences confusion about where the enemy may be, at any given moment.

The visuals and the vastness of the ocean side beach, forefront throughout the entire film, at one hour and forty six minutes relatively brief for a war film, elicits both beauty and a terrible gloominess. Scenes of the vastness of the beach peppered with thousands of cold and hungry men is both pathetic and powerful.

The best scenes take place on Mr. Dawson’s  (Rylance) mariner boat. Aided by his son Peter, and Peter’s frightened schoolmate, the trio head for dangerous Dunkirk to help rescue, but en route pick up a shell-shocked soldier determined to stay as far away from Dunkirk as possible. This leads to compelling drama and a deep characterization of all the central characters.

Many list 1998’s Saving Private Ryan as tops in the modern war genre, but Dunkirk may very well rival that film in intensity and musical effectiveness. Dunkirk also contains shockingly little bloodshed or dismembered soldiers- it does not need this to tell a powerful story. At times emotional,  the film is always intense and never lets go of its audience from the very first frame. A war film for the history books and a lesson in film creativity and thoughtfulness.

Hacksaw Ridge-2016

Hacksaw Ridge-2016

Director-Mel Gibson

Starring-Andrew Garfield

Scott’s Review #651

Reviewed June 9, 2017

Grade: B+

Hacksaw Ridge is considered somewhat of a comeback film for troubled director Mel Gibson, having not directed a film in over ten years. The film received several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Andrew Garfield). While the film has a few minor flaws, and despite being yet another exhausting war film, Hacksaw Ridge is quite powerful, mostly because of the warmth and convictions that Garfield breathes into the central character, and real life hero, Desmond Doss. The film also leans anti-war and pacifistic, needed components in these troubled times.

During World War II, Desmond is a young man living in Virginia. With a brother around the same age, they deal with an abusive, alcoholic father and a passive mother. Desmond realizes he has a talent for medical care and, after falling in love with a small town nurse, he decides to enlist in the Army as a non combat medic. After refusing to use weapons and train on Saturdays, he is met with contempt by his commanding officers and fellow recruits. When, inevitably, Doss and his troops are deployed to the Pacific theater during the Battle of Okinawa, Doss becomes a hero when he saves numerous lives on the frightening  “Hacksaw Ridge” in courageous form.

For the first half or so of the film (save for a peculiar opening battle sequence that comes into play during the second half of the film), the action largely either takes place in Desmond’s hometown  of Virginia or at a basic training facility.  We get to know a bit about Desmond’s childhood experiences, his love life, and his love of country and duty. His father, a retired military man himself is damaged- he drinks, beats on his wife, and hits the boys, though Gibson tones down the abuse by not showing much of it. He saves the real gore for later in the film.

The film during the earlier portions has a very mainstream, safe feel to it and I found more than a couple of aspects to nitpick. Desmond’s fellow training recruits are laced with too often used stereotypical, stock characters- the brooding one, the cocky one nicknamed “Hollywood” for his good looks and tendency to walk around naked, the funny one, the strange one, the list goes on and on. Predictably, drill Sergeant Howell (played by Vince Vaughn, now parlaying from comedy roles to drama) is tough as nails. This is a character we have seen in dozens of war films before it and it feels stale as do all of the characters. Some of the jokes used are cheap one-liners like, “we are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy” to describe new surroundings- Duh, really?. Additionally, there is glaring machismo in the first half that is a negative to the film and it makes the film feel like nothing more than standard fare.

However, the second half of Hacksaw Ridge really drew me in- much more than the first half did. Now in Okinawa, the film grips a much darker tone with the inclusion of battle scenes, some very gruesome with the loss of limbs and life. Technically speaking, the cinematography and camera work are shaky and move very quickly, causing an effective shift from the sun and peace of the United States to the dark and fog of unfamiliar territory.  A sweet scene between Desmond and brooding former rival, Smitty Ryker, inside a foxhole, is wonderful as we get to know each character much better within that one scene. Both men discuss their pasts and grow a new affection for one another. It is humanistic and character driven and thereby makes the film much more powerful.

Andrew Garfield is a marvel in the film and deserves the attention received for the role. Coming into his own as an actor after suffering hiccups with Spider Man, he has thankfully returned to character driven and empathetic roles. The role of Desmond is a truly heroic role for him and he is wonderfully cast.

A war film with a distinct anti-war message, Hacksaw Ridge  is overall a “guy’s film” with the female characters taking a backseat to the men, and suffers from some tried and true aspects, and some of the hairstyles seem awfully 2016, but in the end the film depicts a wonderful human being and tells his heroic story, so that makes the film a good watch.

Unbroken-2014

Unbroken-2014

Director-Angelina Jolie

Starring-Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson

Scott’s Review #260

70305949

Reviewed August 1, 2015

Grade: B

Unbroken tells the true story of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, a runner during the World War II period, who was also serving in the military during this tumultuous time in history. His story is one of bravery, courage, and endurance, as he survives a hellish experience in Japanese prisoner of war camps after having crashed in the Pacific Ocean, stranded for 47 days, as if that were not enough to break a man.

Mainstream Hollywood fare to the hilt, this film is surprisingly directed by Angelina Jolie (a woman) and written by the Coen brothers, the latter usually emitting less traditional and more quirky fare than this film. Jolie directs what is arguably a “guys movie” that contains very few women in the cast, and the ones who do appear are either a loving mother or giggling schoolgirl types, so the big names associated with Unbroken surprise me. I would have taken this work as a Clint Eastwood film. Unbroken, which was expected to receive several Oscar nominations, was shut out of the major categories.

Visually, Unbroken is slick, glossy, and shot very well- it looks perfect. The cinematography, sound effects, and costumes look great. The cast of good-looking young men look handsome even while battered and bruised and half starved. While in a way this is a compliment, it is also not one. Unbroken lacks any grittiness and plays it quite safe. Even the scenes of abuse and beatings lack an edge to them.

This is not to say that the film is not good. It is good. I found myself inspired by the lead character of Louis, played by Jack O’Connell, for his resilence during his ordeals. O’Connell gives a very good performance as his motto, “If I can take it, I can make it” is repeated throughout and who will not cheer at his accomplishments? Zamperini, who has traditional Italian parents having relocated to the United States, are strict but fair. Louis’s older brother, Peter, is his best friend and is the person who has the most faith in him. At first Louis is on the verge of becoming a punk, in trouble with the law, if not for the interference of his brother, who gets him interested in the sport of running.

As the years go by and war erupts, Louis embarks on a tour of duty in the military and his plane crashes in the water providing yet another test of courage and stamina. Louis is strong and in many ways always the leader of the group he is intertwined with. The scenes of the three survivors stranded on the raft for days become slightly tedious, but perhaps this is the films intention, as they eat raw fish and raw bird to survive. Much of the remaining action is set in two Japanese war camps as Louis (and others) struggle to survive until the massive war has ended- they do not know if they will live or die.

The central antagonist- a vicious Japanese sergeant named “Bird”, perplexed me. Blatantly targeting Louis and administering cruel beatings and heaping tests of strength upon Louis, presumably out of jealousy because Louis was an Olympic athlete, why did Bird not simply kill him? His motivations were also odd- In one scene, Bird tearfully tells Louis that he knew they would be friends from the beginning and seems to admire him. Bird’s father, going by a photo, seems a hard, mean man. Is this why Bird is so vicious? Bird’s character is not well thought out. Also, every single Japanese character is portrayed in a very negative light, which sadly is common in war movies. Surely, despite being a war, there had to have been a few Japanese people who were not cruel. Character development and depth is not a strong suit of this film.

At the end of the day, Unbroken is a good, solid, war drama with an inspiring message of triumph, faith, and determination. Indeed, a positive message to viewers of all ages. The abuse/torture scenes are tough to watch, but the end result is a feel-good story. The snippets of the real Louis Zamperini at the end of the film are wonderful to watch.

American Sniper-2014

American Sniper-2014

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Scott’s Review #223

American_Sniper_poster

Reviewed February 22, 2015

Grade: A-

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a war film that is told from the viewpoint of the soldier- or in this case a sniper. A character study if you will. Starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, deemed the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history, he has 255 kills to his name. The film begins pre-9/11 as Kyle views coverage from the 1998 U.S. Embassy attacks and enlists in a grueling training program to become a Navy Seal sniper. Flashbacks reveal Kyle as a child being taught to hunt deer and shoot a rifle by his demanding father. He is eventually sent to Iraq following the 9/11 terror attacks and the film continues to showcase Kyle’s military career and multiple tours of duty ending years later . His loyal wife Taya is played by Sienna Miller.

I am personally not sure the bevy of controversy that American Sniper has stirred is entirely warranted- I looked at the film simply as a very good mainstream, action movie. Yes, it does have the overdone Americana machismo and Texas swagger, but it is an Eastwood film! This masculinity is at the heart of many of his films. I do not view the film as politically charged.

The film leans neither Republican nor Democratic and seems to take a middle of the road viewpoint. It is a tale of a war hero, but it questions the wars fought and the casualties involved both American and otherwise. Sure, Kyle is a good ole, red blooded American, but as he and Taya watch the 9/11 attacks on television, they are watching CNN not Fox News. His close military buddy asks “why are we here?” referring to Afghanistan- there is a clear inference by Eastwood to question what this is all about. I hope audiences keep this in mind.

One concern I do face as I ponder the film is whether American Sniper will send some audience members back to a time when the world was fearful of Muslims and at risk by the recent ISIS terror situations, I hope that people are smart enough to realize that NOT all Muslims are terrorists- it is only a minuscule portion that are evil inspired. Certainly, the major terrorist in American Sniper, known simply as The Butcher, is despicable, but plenty of other Muslims are innocent and victims of The Butchers brutality.

I love how the film has a depth to it- Cooper is resilient as the troubled sniper. He is portrayed as human- a nice, all-American guy. He wrestles with the choice of shooting a woman and young boy dead at the risk of them carrying a bomb and killing members of his squad- he does not want to kill them, but rather is excellent at his job. He is a perfect shot. In the heat of the moment, under extreme pressure he must ask himself, “should I pull the trigger and end their lives”? “what if they are innocent pedestrians?”. He becomes, in a sense, addicted to his duty of going overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan and justifies his service as “protecting Americans”. This leads to his personal life being affected as Taya becomes frustrated with his frequent tours of duty, which he readily chooses to do. He clearly suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, but refuses to acknowledge this fact. He almost kills the family dog in a fit of uncontrolled rage; he temporarily confuses sounds from an auto shop as military warfare.

My admiration for the acting ability of Bradley Cooper increases with each role I see him in- he is a marvel. From recent dynamic performances in American Hustle and The Place Beyond the Pines, to this role, I am convinced he can play any part successfully and convincingly. He has sure come a long way from The Hangover films.

American Sniper is an enormous creative and commercial success and deserves to be. Layered, character driven, it is worlds above the typical male driven action film.

Stalag 17-1953

Stalag 17-1953

Director-Billy Wilder

Starring-William Holden, Don Taylor

Scott’s Review #5

994592

Reviewed June 16, 2014

Grade: B

“Stalag 17”, a film by famed director Billy Wilder, tackles the theme of POW’s during World War II. This film reminds me a bit of the acclaimed television show M*A*S*H in that the comedy elements are similar (men in drag, a light subplot of one soldiers obsession with Betty Grable). However, this film is heavy on the drama side too and deep cynicism that network television shows cannot match.

A group of American soldiers are held in a POW camp by Germans. Somehow any plan for escape is realized by the Germans. A whodunit ensues to find out who exactly the mole is and what his motivations are. Liberties are taken- I doubt the real German soldiers would be as nice as they are depicted in the film.

William Holden stars as the cynic of the camp and the likely suspect, but is he the culprit? This film is a hybrid of other Wilder films- the cross dressing theme in “Some Like it Hot” is depicted and shades of the darkness of “Sunset Boulevard” (also starring Holden) appear.

The black and white is effective in eliciting the confinement of the camp. Good film though a predictable “seen this all before” element nagged throughout.