Revealing the fears, the horror, the camaraderie and, at times, the sheer absurdity of conflict...
The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning masterpiece is a lesson in how to create edge-of-your-seat tension whilst also making a comment on the intoxicating and addictive qualities of war. The big star is disposed of within the first few minutes, paving the way for relative newcomer (at the time) Jeremy Renner to play to bomb disposal squaddie in Iraq. It’s demands your full attention and will certainly get it for the whole 2 hours.
Da 5 Bloods
The newest entry in this list and the latest from Spike Lee. It’s a film about the Vietnam War, and in particular the death of a platoon leader back in the 70’s and his friends returning back to the country now in order to bring his body back. Oh and there’s some CIA gold that they want to dig up thrown in there too. Early word is that this is an outstanding film, one that explores themes of friendship, as well as looking at the grim realities of fighting for a country in a war when you’re still classed as a second-class citizen back home.
First They Killed My Father
Surprisingly directed by Angelina Jolie, this movie charts the life of Ung, a child who is trained as a child soldier in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. A direct result of American involvement in the Vietnam War, the Cambodian Civil War was a truly horrific conflict, one that used conscripted children throughout and resulted in mass murder, genocide and some truly harrowing atrocities. This film is not easy viewing, but I’d argue it’s an important one – bringing to light one of the 20th Century’s forgotten wars and the role that the US had in it.
The Eagle Has Landed
The ‘eagle’ in this film refers to an operation set up by the Nazis to kidnap Churchill from a small village in Norfolk towards the end of the Second World War. The plot is absolute trash but it’s a great film, made 10x better by some excellent appearances from IRA man Donald Sutherland, high-ranking Nazi Robert Duvall and even Donald Pleasance as Himmler himself. The plan goes all to cock of course but it’s an enjoyable ride and any film that features Michael Caine playing a baddy is always enjoyable. See also – On Deadly Ground with Steven Seagal.
A frank and sometimes hilarious account of day-to-day life as a squaddie, Jarhead is a film that I feel many people have completely forgotten about and that’s a real shame. Set during the first Gulf War, the film follows Jake Gyllenhaal as a lowly ‘jarhead’ in the massive machine of war that the US unleashed on Iraq after the invasion of neighbouring Kuwait. Again, it’s a rather US-centric account of the conflict, but it highlights just how mundane and dull war can be, before you’re thrust into short periods of intense action and severe emotional stress. The whole scene with the snipers is truly excellent also.
The Vietnam War
Okay so this isn’t a film but it’s as important as any other war film on this list. Maybe even more so. Ken Burns’ epic account of the Vietnam War is a true testament to documentary filmmaking and is an eye-opening watch from start to finish. Even if you have a moderate understanding of what happened in the 60s and 70s, this series is detailed enough to tell you something new every couple of minutes and with such a complex and long-reaching conflict – it’s informative enough to keep you going for its full 10 hour + timespan.
A film that’s both poignant and disturbing to watch, sometimes at the same time, Fury tells the story of a tank platoon during World War Two. It’s a bit American heavy, although any film starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf is always going to be innit?! There’s this one bit about 2/3rds through when they arrive at a German village and they interact with some German civilians. This is where the film truly shines – highlighting the plight of innocents during the war and in particular – that of the German women (and girls) coping with the advancement of armies of men and the horrific events that invariably took place.
A war epic by Christopher Nolan, this film aims to perfectly encapsulate the fear, claustrophobia and sheer helplessness that was present at the British and French retreat from mainland Europe in 1940. Everybody knows the story of Dunkirk, and Nolan has recreated it in astounding details and horror. There’s some odd timey-wimey bits which seem a little unnecessary and if we’re being honest, the Dunkirk scene in the film Atonement is better, but overall, it’s an outstanding war movie indeed.
Beasts of No Nation
This movie is set in an unspecified West African nation and follows the story of a young lad who is recruited into the ranks of a rebel force. After a truly horrible initiation process where he hacks someone to death, the young lad becomes a fully-fledged member of the militia and embarks on a horrific tale of war and “beasts”. This Cary Fukunaga film is as hard-hitting as it is horrific and it’ll open your eyes to the plight of many African nations and the children that have become tools of war.
Okay so Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-Jewish War Epic is about as realistic as an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo but it’s a true spectacle and indeed a masterclass in tension. The film is basically a series of encounters between people on different sides of the war, and the repercussions of events shaped by people with such contrasting world views that they are willing to die for what they believe. Of course, Hitler himself gets machine gunned in the face at the end but the real stand-out is Christoph Waltz as the ‘Jew Hunter’ Colonel Hans Landa.
Adrien Brody’s Oscar-winning turn as Władysław Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist who’s playing live on the radio when the station is bombed, is powerful enough to give The Pianist a go. The horrific events of the Holocaust are laid bare through his eyes as he is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, is involved in the Uprising and eventually liberated by the Soviets in 1945. Of course, this film was directed by Roman Polanski who is a Holocaust survivor himself, but also a man convicted of raping a minor back in 1977, creating a piece of work that’s highly conflicted and an issue that I’m in no way qualified to even begin to tackle.
The Great Escape
A British Christmas staple, The Great Escape is a true story (ish) about a group of Allied POW’s escaping their camp in Germany and their attempts to get out of occupied territory afterwards. Everyone seems to swoon over American GI Steve McQueen and his motorbike-riding exploits but for me the best fella in it is the ‘Tunnel King’ Charles Bronson – a man who spends his time digging tunnels but is shit scared of small spaces. It’s an enjoyable film to watch on a Sunday afternoon, even if it gets a little dark towards the end.