Thursday, 15 November 2012

Vietnam Week 4: Food Fight

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. Today's film is based on one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam war. The plot is based on true events though the characters are fictional and unlike other Vietnam films, today's film searches to tell the truth over entertaining its audience. This is Hamburger Hill.

Hamburger Hill, or Hill 937, in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam is of little strategic advantage for the U.S. Military but it is heavily fortified by the North Vietnamese. The film follows a squad of 14 men as they persevere in a brutal ten day battle to try and claim the hill. There is no real protagonist and an almost anonymous enemy; simply gunshots in the distance. This is no mere attempt at entertaining a wider audience, however. The film is an honest account of the chaos and brutality that was the Vietnam War. As that is the entire plot covered, let us move on. 

What happens when 'got your back' is misunderstood...
The start of several big stars film careers, including Don Cheadle, but only two of which really stand out. The first is Courtney B. Vance as Spc. Abraham 'Doc' Johnson. Doc, as a black man in the 1960s, has had his fair share of abuse and you can see how that translates into his attitude toward the war. There is clearly an anger towards those in a position of power over him and that, because of his race, he won't have that power, but also there is a strong feeling of comradery towards his fellow soldiers. He points out that, on this hill, they are all equal. The second stand out performance comes from Dylan McDermott as Sgt. Adam Frantz. The reason McDermott stands out is simply due to how cool he is throughout the film but, as things turn serious and friends start dying, we see his defences break down and his sanity slip until all that he has left that matters to him is getting up the hill. A wonderfully realistic performance. 

The Karaoke night never pulled out a big crowd.

There is very little to say about the film that the tagline doesn't: 'The most realistic portrayal of the Vietnam War ever filmed . Because it's the only one that's true.' That is exactly what it is. This is a brutal and gripping tale of a single moment in the war. There is no over complications with secondary story lines, there is only the hill. The wonderful contrast between the actual fighting and the downtime between gunfire, combined with a near perfect soundtrack, create an eerily accurate atmosphere. What really makes it stand out from other Vietnam films, however, is the fact it doesn't hold the focus on an individual's death. There is no slow motion, no screaming and crying and hugging it out. It is war and people die. The effects are clear without needing to make it too explicit. 

A good film. A great story. As a film, it lacks the entertainment value that the other Vietnam films have. There is less artistic license used. The men have strict uniforms and they stick to their rules and regulations. Whilst this is a more honest approach to film making, it is less watch-able (perhaps why it comes in as the shortest film this week.)

Best Bit? There is something horribly captivating about the assault in the rain. Watching the men hopelessly slide back down the hill after fighting to get up is heartbreaking but I challenge you to look away.

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