This past Monday was the Fourth of July, and we are reminded of all the courageous men and women who have fought to maintain our freedom and independence. Some celebrated with a night of drinking that climaxed with a DUI; others enjoyed parades and fireworks; but some of our friends and family were working around the clock in areas where freedom is a distant hope. So, to honor my fellow military men and women and their families, here is my list of my top five favorite military films.
–The Hurt Locker– Setting aside the much deserved Best Picture at the Academy Awards last year, here is easily the most intense movie I’ve seen in years (possibly ever). Jeremy Renner grounds the story of a man who becomes addicted to the adrenaline of his job. This film transcended the “Iraq War/War on Terror” sub-genre that emerged after September 2001. The story is about the job and about the EOD team, specifically Renner’s William James. When I first saw this film, I noticed that director Kathryn Bigelow had crafted a film that is more intense when it’s calm than when it’s embracing the action. A absolutely brilliant movie that deserves to be seen.
–The Thin Red Line– Released the same year as Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line focuses on Guadalcanal during World War II. With a cast that is almost as long as the movie’s run time (170 minutes), the film looks at the men involved in all aspects of the skirmish. The first time I saw it, I missed George Clooney’s scenes, which drove me crazy (he only has a few minutes of screen time towards the end). A grand epic on it’s own, director Terence Malick returns to filmmaking after a 20 year break to look at the philosophy and emotion of combat. Personally, I love this film more than Saving Private Ryan even though both are great films for different reasons, so I chose to put this one in lieu of both. With my inability to get through Malick’s current release Tree of Life, this film has been on my mind ever since.
–Black Hawk Down– After Ridley Scott made the Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal, Scott ended that same year with Black Hawk Down. It followed the operation in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1993. When a routine operation to extract two lieutenants of a warlord goes wrong, Army Rangers, Delta Force, and a Special Operations Aviation Regiment all work to safely protect a downed Black Hawk helicopter and the injured on the ground. Filmed from multiple vantages points, we see each team work to complete the mission and minimize further fatalities and injuries. The film feels so real, you think you’re there. Prior to The Hurt Locker, this was my favorite military/war movie. It is rich with colorful characters and a few moments of baddassery that would make any strong man tear up.
–Good Morning Vietnam– The first of Robin Williams’ Oscar nominated performances in his career, Williams plays Adrian Cronauer, an Air Force Airman working as a radio DJ at an Army base in Vietnam. Filled with Williams’ trademark rapid-fast comedy delivery, but also his chance to really flex his acting chops. This was the birth of his dramatic acting career. A great film that ages really well. Directed by Barry Levinson, Good Morning Vietnamis a bit fish-out-of-water and a bit of life in Vietnam during the war.
–Stop-Loss– This film is controversial in it’s concept. The film deals with a man who is forced to return to Iraq after he has completed his time in service. Instead of going back, he tries to escape the reach of the government. Stop-Loss is a tough program that disheartens many who have been subjected to it. Having known someone who was recalled by it, I understand the feeling it can leave.
Starring the underrated Ryan Phillippe and directed by Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce, the film doesn’t pull any punches. It tackles all aspects of combat veterans, from proud to those riddled with injuries both psychological and physical. The final moments of the film had me weeping for half an hour afterward.