6. Hamburger Hill
Nearly every film ever made about the Vietnam War seems to be driven by the (understandable) need to place the events within a wider context. Not so with Hamburger Hill, which is really only interested in telling the story of its platoon of characters at a ground level, devoid of any over-riding politics.
The end result is an incredibly humanistic, deeply moving affair – although director John Irvin’s efforts here aren’t quite as successful as Oliver Stone’s similar squad-based outing, Platoon. All the same, the cast – which features Dylan McDermott, Courtney B. Vance and Don Cheadle – are uniformly strong, and the battle scenes well-realized, making Hamburger Hill worth checking out.
One of only a handful of movies set during the first Gulf War, Jarhead is an unflinching look at what life was like for marines embroiled in a conflict that presented distinct logistical and moral challenges.
Director Sam Mendes – working from William Broyles Jr.’s adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s memoirs of the same name – perfectly captures the loneliness and boredom that gradually ate away at the troops who took part in Operation Desert Shield.
Toss in a haunting performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford, and stunning cinematography by the always-amazing Roger Deakins, and you’re left with a truly great war film.
Forget everything you know about M*A*S*H from the popular TV series starring Alan Alda. Unlike its small screen counterpart, Robert Altman’s film is a pitch black comedy definitely not suitable for the whole family!
Donald Sutherland stars as “Hawkeye” Pierce, with Elliott Gould as fellow combat surgeon and comedy sidekick “Trapper” John McIntyre, in this scathing satire of the Korean War. Fans of the show might baulk at the racier content and more graphic depictions of surgical procedures. But those looking for a bit more bite with their humor will appreciate the edgier tone of Altman’s flick – as well as the anti-Vietnam War subtext that pervades proceedings.
9. Hell’s Angels
Hell’s Angels had an infamously troubled road to the silver screen. Not only did several pilots die filming the elaborate dogfight sequences, but halfway through production, eccentric billionaire director Howard Hughes decided to re-film the whole thing, to take advantage of new sound technology!
He almost needn’t have bothered, as the film’s acting and dialogue are easily its weakest aspects. Nevertheless, the aerial skirmishes in this World War I epic are breathtaking even by modern standards, with over 130 pilots taking part in the climactic battle, conducting stunts co-designed by Hughes himself.
10. Rescue Dawn
Back in 2006, writer-director Werner Herzog directed Rescue Dawn, which dramatizes the real-life story of US pilot Dieter Dengler captured during the Vietnam War…and nobody went to see it. This despite the involvement of A-Lister Christian Bale as Dengler, and strong reviews from critics.
Fortunately, Rescue Dawn is available on home media, and we’d strongly recommend you track it down. Bale is reliably excellent in the lead role, and Herzog’s considerable skills as a filmmaker elevate what could easily have been a generic, “prisoner-of-war” potboiler into something much greater.
Then there’s the lush cinematography by Peter Zeitlinger, which convincingly transforms the jungles of Thailand into those of Vietnam, and contributes immeasurably to the film’s atmosphere. You won’t need to be reminded of the odds that Dengler and his fellow POWs face in trying to escape through the inhospitable jungle – thanks to Zeitlinger, it’s all right there before your eyes.