Tag Archives: war

Hacksaw Ridge

“I’ve never been more wrong about someone in my life.”

Well here’s a thing we never thought we’d see, huh? Mel Gibson back in the director’s chair for a big budget film. More impressive, by the time the film had been released in the UK, the film has been nominated for a slew of awards, including that of Best Film and Best Director. Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day.

Hacksaw Ridge is the unbelievably true story of Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the son of a veteran and a man compelled to enlist in the army in 1942 once the Japanese became a part of World War II. Signing his life away to the military and wanting to serve as a medic, Doss actively defied orders in the name of his religious and moral beliefs by refusing to pick up a rifle. Refusing to be beaten out of his unit, the young Private passes basic training with his squad mates. His refusal to carry a rifle because of his pacifist beliefs lands him in a court martial that could end his career in the military before it has even begun. With a little help from a higher-up, and an impassioned plea from his father, Doss earns the right to head into battle armed with nothing but prayer.

Despatched to Japan, Doss and the 77th Infantry division are sent to Hacksaw Ridge; a key strategic point that the Americans need to take in order to further their campaign to Okinawa. Starting with a 400 foot climb heading directly into the battlefield, the American forces are at a severe disadvantage against an entrenched Japanese army. As the battle becomes unwinnable and the Americans retreat in a hail of artillery fire, Doss finds himself stuck at the top of the ridge, refusing to leave a single casualty behind.

In the hours that follow, Private First Class Desmond Doss shows a level of bravery most people could only imagine when he singlehandedly rescues 75 stranded soldiers from the field with very little care for his own safety.

War films as a genre have been done to death. There’s no denying their impact in today’s climate, but they always run the risk of being preachy more than entertaining; and that’s not why we go to the cinema.

We all know that being a pacifist idealist would make you a better person than most, but in this world it’s hardly ever possible. I was expecting to come out of Hacksaw Ridge thoroughly annoyed that I had been preached at for two and a half hours for not being a better person. Instead, I came out just a little bit sad that I am most certainly not as good a person as Doss.

Mel Gibson has taken this over-used genre and made it something worth talking about again. Clearly he was inspired by a few other greats of the past – namely half-inching Kubrick’s hilarious and genius opening forty minutes of Full Metal Jacket, letting Vince Vaughn be his own Gunnery Sergeant Hartman for a bit, with outstanding results – but he’s also taken as much inspiration from the history books as he has from films like Hamburger Hill and unashamedly made them into something worthy of its award nods.

Gibson proves his worth behind the camera by crafting a slow paced opening hour that tells you everything you think you need to know about Doss and his reasons for his conscientious objection to combat. He tells the story of his father’s time in the Great War, with Hugo Weaving on superb form as the forgotten veteran. We see Desmond hastily fall in love with a nurse (Theresa Palmer) at the same time as he’s inspired to become a medic; a not totally coincidental crossing over of these passions.

None of this build up seems slow or drawn out; it all feels necessary as we head into the young Private’s basic training where his objections are ignored and ridiculed. You don’t necessarily feel for his predicament either, which speaks to the lack of being preached at in this film. You do have moments where you feel “oh for Christ’s sake, kid. Don’t be there if you don’t want to fight in a war”, and the greatness of Gibson’s filmmaking (and Garfield’s acting) is that we are allowed to be convinced he’s doing the right thing at the same time his Commanding Officers are. We’re not preached at, we’re taught that the Private’s purpose may not be to kill, but to help those who are signing up to do just that.

Once we get to the war and the terrifying fight ahead of Doss’s platoon, we see the full effect of the now veteran director’s skill as every shot fired, every grenade thrown and every body that falls to the floor is a chilling and visceral reminder of the horror facing these men taking on an enemy with perhaps more fortitude and conviction than any American forces have ever faced. Shown in frightening detail in a scene destined for that “One Perfect Shot” twitter account we all follow, we see what seems to be an endless stream of Japanese soldiers running from bunkers and underground caves like a river running down a mountainside. In a film with near perfect direction throughout, this scene stood out to me as one of the scariest moments I’ve seen in a war film in quite some time.

What I found equally as impressive was Andrew Garfield’s performance. Outside of Silence I haven’t cared for him much and after Hacksaw Ridge I might just start calling myself a fan. His portrayal of this soldier that’s the very definition of a hero is nothing short of brilliant. I thought his hillbilly accent would annoy me for two and a half hours; instead it made him a little endearing. After the first twenty minutes or so, I didn’t even realise it was still there – concentrating more on what he was doing than how he sounded while he did it. The young actor amazingly had me believing his convictions on screen and rooting for him as the world was against him. As he fought and struggled to rescue his comrades, I was scared for him and praying along with him. A sublime performance from a guy a have only recently lambasted for being a shit Spider-Man.

Clearly the star of this film, I would consider Garfield the lead here the same way Charlie Sheen is the lead in Platoon. Of course he’s the guy in top billing and the guy whose story is being told; but he has such a fantastic group of actors behind him that to cheer and marvel over each of them would be another two thousand words. Much like you would when reviewing Oliver Stone’s Vietnam epic, you have to pick a few key performances from the line-up. In this case though, the people you’re almost forced to focus on are more deserving because of who they are and their generally poor standing in the eyes of a lot of people who would be going to see his film.

I’m speaking, of course, of Vince Vaughn’s Sergeant Howell and Sam Worthington’s Captain Glover. Both guys aren’t particularly well known for their acting chops nowadays (although I’d argue that they are usually decent) but they seemed to make special effort to put across a good performance. I certainly give credit to them both for being more than just watchable – they were great. Vaughn’s channelling of R. Lee Ermey might seem derivative and cheap when he first breaks into it, but by the end of his first stint of yelling at the young recruits, he’s brought his own flavour of abuse to the scene and made it his own. Worthington’s performance is a little more run-of-the-mill as the captain going up against Doss, but once he’s in the heat of battle with the medic at his side, he’s as good as any on-screen soldier you’ve seen before.

All of this rolls into a two-and-a-bit hour-long film that doesn’t feel half as long as that once you reach the end. Hacksaw Ridge has hit the top of my favourites list so far this year when it comes to Oscarbait movies. A war drama that isn’t just a gruesome story about how horrific that (or any) war is. It’s a film that might actually restore a little faith in humanity; and considering I went into this flick expecting to be preached at, I can honestly say we need a film like Hacksaw Ridge in our cinemas more than we probably realised before it came out.

Finally, if you don’t know the subject very well, I believe that a film that’s “based on a true story” like this one should make you want to go out and read about the thing you just spent over two hours watching. Hacksaw Ridge definitely made me want to learn more about the battle it was based on and the man whose story it was telling.

Let me tell you: You might not believe everything you see on screen and a certain amount of completely acceptable poetic license has been applied to the story, but it’s nothing compared to the amazing things Desmond Doss accomplished in real life.

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Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky

“Never tell a soldier he doesn’t know the cost of war.”

Sometimes a film comes out of absolutely nowhere and blows you away. Sometimes you go see a film based on, I don’t know, the awesome looking cast or because the synopsis makes it sound interesting or, like this for instance, timing just happened to mean you were seeing Eye in the Sky because there wasn’t a convenient showing of The Jungle Book when you got to your local flicks.

I plonked my arse in the chair having not seen a trailer (amazingly!) or really heard anything about what I was about to watch. Sometimes that’s my favourite way to go into a movie.

Gavin Hood – director of the okay Rendition and the pretty crap X-Men Origins: Wolverine – has put together an awesome cast for what may be the most tense drama I’ve seen in quite some time. British army Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has led a years long charge after a couple of violent extremists in Kenya, the sum of all her work culminating in a multi-national operation to apprehend and interrogate them. She soon comes to blows with her commanding officer, Lieutenant General Benson (Alan Rickman) and the politicians he answers to when her mission goes sideways and it quickly goes from being a target capture to an execution from afar.

Things are complicated further when the pilot of the drone that’s watching Powell’s targets (Aaron Paul), who has suddenly become the man with his finger on the trigger, refuses to pull it when the question of collateral damage isn’t one that is answered in a way that satisfies him. Demanding the Colonel and the General rethink their strategies and come back with a safer alternative, they all find themselves in a race against time trying to get a safe solution before their very high value targets, and the men they are grooming to be suicide bombers leave the building they are holed up in making them impossible to track.

I don’t know where to begin with this film. Almost everything about it is outstanding and I’m genuinely confused about where to start. Let’s talk for a second about the pedigree of two of the three main characters. We have the outstanding Helen Mirren, a woman who won an Oscar playing the Queen for Christ’s sake, sinking her teeth into a part that was clearly written for a man. Nevertheless, she grabs that ball and runs hard with it as the colonel at the end of her rope. We get to see this stoic military woman try desperately to hold it together as the last few years of work starts to slip away and she has to wonder where she can draw her line. On the other side of her monitor is the truly amazing Alan Rickman. A man who has dedicated his life to the military and, like it or not, he has to convince politicians on both sides of the Atlantic of the right thing to do. He has to fight with these men and women who’s priorities are skewed around protecting themselves first and everyone else second.

Bringing up the rear, in a way, is Aaron Paul. A man I was never really a fan of (yeah, I know he was great in Breaking Bad, but what else?) but is definitely on the road to converting me after this role. As the man with his finger on the trigger, his reaction to the situation on the ground is what makes this such an important film. He’s us. He’s the guy asking if he’s doing the right thing and making sure those giving the orders are doing the right thing too. It’s not a question of legality, it’s a question of morality; we know it, he knows it, and damn he’ll make sure his superiors know it. Ok, so maybe I am bigging him up a bit. Mainly he does that silly crying thing he always does and looks very sad, but I’m pretty riveted with every line he utters.

Hood’s direction, which in the past has left a shit load to be desired, is near perfect here. With the perfect pace the ramps up the tension to nail-biting levels and a beautiful editing job that never lets you forget all the players in this game, there’s no way you get to the end of this surprising little flick without gripping the arm of the chair. Not one minute of screen time, not one frame of film is wasted in the telling of this story. It’s a story of men and women that have to decide to kill people, or not. It’s a story of the decisions that are made probably more often than any of us want or care to realise and it’s the story of people that have to go through this hell, and come back the next day and do it all over again.

It’s the story of decisions that none of us would ever want to make.

In an impressive feat, Mr. Hood has taken a film with almost no explosions, fewer guns, and gone and made one of the greatest, most compelling war films of the last few years as the question of the morality of not just the war on terror but that of long-range drone warfare are brought to the forefront and a spotlight put on them like never before. Each person involved brings everything they have to convincing us of the turmoil they are going through. It would be awful of me not to mention the late, great, Alan Rickman in what is his last role on screen. There’s a certain melancholy to his part and a real sad feeling to watch him bring his driest of dry humour up there for the last time, but it’s one of his most memorable parts and as shit as it is that he’s not with us anymore, this is a great send off.

Eye in the Sky is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. It’s an almost perfectly formed drama that leaves a knot in your stomach long after the credits have rolled. It’s pulled-from-the-headlines subject matter puts questions none of us want to answer up there in bright lights for us all to discuss and isn’t afraid to make you wonder which side is right. It’s a serious, grim story to tell; but it’s an affecting one. I can’t remember ever seeing such a quiet, somber audience as a cinema empties.

American Sniper

By design, American Sniper has nothing to say which makes it a waste of both my time and yours.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Film Fact Based FracasLike it or not, a war film is inherently political.  The act of war is inherently political and ideological, so a war movie, by extension, has to be about something.  A “just the facts” war movie is a documentary and even then many have things to say about war and/or the people being forced to fight in it – Restrepo, for example, ends up making a sharp point about how war can affect the men and women forced onto the front lines, and the absolute mess that comes from having to establish relations with citizens whose language you don’t speak and who do not trust you at all, purely by stepping back and “just showing the facts”.  A non-documentary film, though, cannot subscribe to that and needs an overall point to power it, otherwise it’s just wasting the viewer’s time.  Something to say about the war, about PTSD, about politics, about the men and women who pull the triggers, something, anything.

American Sniper, the newest film from director Clint Eastwood, has no point.  By design, it has absolutely no point to make.  When faced with the task of adapting the life story of Chris Kyle (here portrayed by Bradley Cooper), a decorated war hero who went on four tours of Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and whose official recorded kill count of 160 makes him the deadliest sniper in US military history, Eastwood and the film’s writer, Jason Hall, have opted to simply print the legend.  “Just the facts.”  Consequently, American Sniper is a film that goes out of its way to avoid making any point whatsoever, which is the single worst possible thing it could do.

See, again, war films are inherently political.  War films about the Iraq war, one of the most political wars of at least the last 30 or so years, are especially inherently political.  The conflict is so muddled, so ideologically driven in such different ways, so tied to the current world landscape, and such a mess that any film made about it or set during it is going to make a point regardless of how hard it tries not to.  American Sniper, therefore, most resembles the Modern Warfare-era Call of Duty games.  Those are war games set in the Middle East that just want to be fun video games and not make any major ideological points.  However, by aiming to do that, they do, in fact, end up taking a side: that side being jingoistic pro-war slightly xenophobic glorification, insidiously so.

And that’s what American Sniper ends up doing.  Without even meaning to, it glorifies the war, its subject, and the murdering of any being who even dares resemble a terrorist because of its desire to try and make a “just the facts” film.  Because there can be no such thing as a “just the facts” dramatisation because a film has to decide and construct certain things that will get in the way of “just the facts”.  A filmmaker will bring their own personal baggage and ideologies to a film and that will influence them on what they end up doing, consciously or unconsciously.  So Kyle’s shots are always justified, the American military’s response is always justified, and the war is always justified because the film refuses to linger on any of the aftermath, or to characterise any of the Iraqis as anything other than Western-hating insurgents – save for one Sheik which is the film equivalent of “I can’t be racist, one of my best friends is Iraqi!” – because Eastwood and co. are all trying so hard to avoid making a point.  The irony of a film trying so hard to avoid saying anything about the Iraq war ending up saying something is not lost on me, but is completely lost on the film.

Then there’s the character of Chris Kyle himself who, once again, the film completely refuses to try and say anything about.  Kyle is a man with a ridiculously long kill list, who went on four tours, had a loving wife (played thanklessly by Sienna Miller) and family back home, and who struggled with severe PTSD upon finally remaining at home… and yet, despite spending two hours and ten minutes in his company, the film has nothing to say about the man.  Nothing about his upbringing, nothing about his time overseas, nothing about why he keeps re-enlisting despite having a loving wife begging him to stay home, nothing.  It utterly refuses to dig into his psyche and figure out why he does what he does, instead presenting the things he does as stuff he did.

This, ultimately, means that the film also fails as a biopic about Chris Kyle.  Bradley Cooper is trying really hard – in a relaxed manner that isn’t straining for awards consideration like Eddie Redmayne was in The Theory Of Everything, another film with nothing to say about its subject – to find the character of Chris Kyle and what makes him tick, but the script gives him next-to-no material to work with on that front.  Occasionally, we will be given the slightest slither of an insight into Kyle – there’s a sequence late on where he quietly begs a child he has lined up in his sights to not go for the recently dropped RPG, as well as a very understated scene in a bar when he returns home early – but then we’re back to this cold, distant, closed-off look at what he done did, with pretty much every other time that the film threatens to question what makes him tick – usually signposted by his wife asking him point blank “Why do you keep going back?” – immediately cutting away before anything can be revealed.

As a result, the extent of the film’s insight into what made Chris Kyle the man he was boils down to “When he was a young boy, his dad took him hunting and gave him a talk about being a man who stands up to bullies.  Also, he’s just such a goddamn patriot.”  And maybe it really is that simple.  Maybe he really was just a man who wanted to save the lives of his fellow and prospective fellow soldiers, and maybe he really was just a man who didn’t question or self-reflect on his actions.  There is a difference, though, between a portrait of a man like that and a film that doesn’t want or can’t be bothered to reflect on a man like that, and American Sniper is the latter.  This is a film that relegates Kyle’s fight with PTSD to a barely five minute montage near the end and doesn’t have the guts to spend any time on the circumstances leading up to and surrounding his (off-screen) murder, because those would risk having to actually probe Kyle psychologically and that goes against the apparent “just the facts” edict that seemingly informed the whole production.

American Sniper is not a badly-made film – there’s Cooper’s aforementioned performance, Eastwood is able to extract some decent tension out of some scenes, and there are times when the film threatens to start on the road to making a point – save for a prominently featured plastic baby standing in for a real one, but it is a completely pointless one.  Yes, it insidiously promotes and glorifies a jingoistic patriotic attitude towards war, but that’s completely by accident.  The fact is that American Sniper has nothing to say about war.  Not about Iraq, not about the men and women who fought there, not about its subject Chris Kyle, not about the moral quandaries behind his actions and most certainly nothing about PTSD or his post-war life.  It has nothing to say and the fact that it actively goes out of its way to avoid having an intentional point or something to say is infuriating.

In other words, it’s two hours and ten minutes of active squandering of anything interesting to say.  It is literal timewasting that inadvertently pushes a glorified pro-war viewpoint.  If it were open about it, I’d still disagree with the film, because of my own staunch anti-war and anti-violence beliefs, but I’d at least respect it for being open about it and saying something.  Instead, American Sniper is a film that runs out the clock for two hours and ten minutes of admittedly well-made pointlessness.  That offends me.

Callum Petch likes to destroy all the things that bring the idiots joy.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

’71

“..certainly one of the best British films of 2014 and will hopefully be considered that come award season.”

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

71The Troubles in Northern Ireland were not something I was taught about in school, perhaps as, with the Good Friday Agreement taking place in 1998, when I was eight years old, it was not yet ‘History’ and was, and probably still is, fresh in the minds of many British and Irish people or perhaps it was to complex and difficult a situation to teach schoolchildren about, even at GCSE level.

If you are looking for a film that looks into this period of history this is not it. 1970’s Northern Ireland is just a backdrop for the movie. It could easily have been set in Afghanistan or Iraq in the last 15 years or so, occupied France in World War 2 or perhaps any conflict of the last century.

This film does not pick a side. It plays it completely neutral and straight down the middle showing that there are/were good people and bad people on both sides of the conflict. There is a line where a young child asks the main character, Gary Hook, played by Jack O’Connell, if he is Catholic or Protestant and he replies ‘I don’t know’.

What you do get is a tense thriller about a young soldier stuck behind enemy lines with people out hunting for him and to ultimately kill him.

The film really knows how to ramp up the tension and sense of foreboding, whether it is through a chase through the back streets of Belfast with gunmen on Gary Hook’s tail or the young private hiding in an outhouse or alley way in the dark from a mob wielding weapons and Molotov cocktails.

This is done superbly by the direction of Yann Demange and the soundtrack which helps set the mood. I felt more tense and ‘scared’ watching ’71 than I have watching many modern horror films.

There is also a scene involving a bomb blast in a pub which is so realistic and effective it feels like you were in the explosion itself while sat in your cinema seat.

Jack O’Connell is undoubtedly the star and the most important character in the film but has very little dialogue. It would not be surprising to find out that many of the supporting cast had more lines than him.

However his performance is not hampered in any way at all. O’Connell seems to thrive in this role and can express his emotions, the fear and panic felt and the aggression and anger in a few scenes without needing to open his mouth.

Unfortunately it is not all positive and the film does let itself down towards the end. ’71 has a subplot involving some undercover agents which never really adds to it in anyway but as it comes to the fore in the closing stages it kind of takes the sheen off of a very polished film.

Still the film is easily worth watching and is certainly one of the best British films of 2014 and will hopefully be considered that come award season. O’Connell is set for big things following this and turns in Starred Up and Skins and it will be interesting to see how he does in the Angelina Jolie directed Unbroken later this year.

’71 is still in cinemas right now, catch it before it drops out. You can also hear Steve, Owen and Carole talk about ’71 on the upcoming podcast!

Fury

A very good war drama, replete with fantastically well shot action sequences and brilliant performances, that’s just shy of greatness.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

furyWar is hell. That much we know. According to the cast, who have stated many times during various interviews this past week or so, making a war film with (writer & director) David Ayer is also hell. Three months of strict training regimes, rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal, sitting inside a tin can for hours on end with the smell of another man’s body odour forever burnt into the inside of their nostrils; Ayer used all of his personal experiences of serving in the armed forces (on a submarine, no less) to convey as realistic an experience as possible. It was all worth it in the end though as it has resulted in a strong character driven drama with five fantastic performances.

Along with its gala screening closing the 2014 BFI London Film Festival and various previews around the UK on Sunday, and an already high box office taking in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this pop up on many peoples watch-lists in the coming few days, if it’s not there already. You’ve probably seen the trailer a hundred times. Or, at the very least, on more than one occasion you’ve had the annoyingly-still-handsome Brad Pitt’s face fly past you as it’s plastered all over the side of a bus. The marketing for this two and a bit hour movie has been relentless.

Shot mostly in Hertfordshire (and a bit in Oxfordshire) in the UK, the plot actually takes place in and around Berlin towards the end of the Second World War. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is the sergeant in command of a tank unit comprised of Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf). The four of them, along with their recently deceased comrade in arms have been together since the war began, fighting their way through Africa to Europe. Their close-knit group is about to have a spanner thrown in the works as they’re forced to recruit a new gunner, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who has no previous combat experience and appears to be reluctant to pull the trigger. As they march across Germany, capturing and killing the last of the Nazi soldiers, they’re bent, twisted and forced into the shape of something resembling a family.

And that really is the key word to describe the main theme of Ayer’s movie. It’s about family. As much as the film carries with it messages about the horrors of war, about the trauma inflicted on those who participated in one of the most horrendous events in modern history, ultimately what’s being conveyed is how people can find solace in the unlikeliest of places. Almost every war film made has to deal with the concept of good versus evil and how to presents this; either with anti-war messages such as those in the immediate post-war era of the 50s; or glorifying and honouring those who served with propaganda films funded by the military and government; or even just stating things in as matter-of-fact manner possible. It’s as pronounced as it’s ever going to be with a World War II based film, with the allies on one side (the good) and the axis on the other (the evil). However, the good here is clearly defined by the warmth and sometimes brutally honest home that the group find together in their heavily-armoured mobile-weapon, an M4A3E8 Sherman tank. It’s not in Ayer’s interests to educate you about right and wrong.

fury 5

As others have mentioned (including Carole in her LFF diary article), Fury hinges on the performances of its main cast. If they had failed to convince you to see the characters as a family, with all their camaraderie, banter and friction that comes with it, then nothing else around that would’ve worked at all. As it happens, Pitt really gets into and perfectly suits his position as the father of the dysfunctional family, whilst his relationship with the youngest member (Lerman) grows naturally throughout. Peña and Bernthal add a little humour to their roles that is so desperately required in juxtaposition to the bleakness and grim realities of war. A big surprise for many is the multi-layered performance from Shia LaBeouf as the man of faith. Not me, I hasten to add. I’ve been a fan since his role in Lawless. Probably even more so since he started to go a bit crazy. The main point is that they all work as well as individual, well-rounded and realistic characters who develop and grow over the course of the runtime, as much as they all work well together. There’s a certain tenderness displayed during the quieter moments that allows the viewer to see these men as human beings rather than just soldiers doing their job.

If it sounds like I’m gushing too much, then that’s just me avoiding the issue of one or two criticisms I have. Let’s get them out of the way!

What is there left, really, for world war films to tell us? Hasn’t it all been done before? World War II dramas from a soldiers perspective are so few and far between these days. Excluding Inglorious Basterds, which I hasten to call a World War movie, pictures like Band of Brothers, Letters from Iwo Jima, and of course Saving Private Ryan, these are all approximately a decade old now. Surely all that this tells us is that this particular well has run dry. In many respects, Fury is absolutely nothing new. However, this doesn’t seem like much of a criticism in and of itself. Who cares how original it is, if it’s actually done well enough, right? There’s enough here for it to feel worthwhile telling this story, even if there isn’t a whole lot to learn about that’s not been seen previously.

Saying all that, if you’re going into this expecting to see Saving Private Ryan, only newer and flashier, then you won’t be too disappointed. It’s absolutely not a sweeping war epic with bloody battles on the beaches of Normandy. There are many, many bloody battles as they traverse Germany, but they are on a somewhat smaller scale. What is similar to Spielberg’s iconic movie is that there are plenty of exceptionally well shot action scenes. Battles between soldiers and tanks that take place in tiny rubble covered streets, or large open fields, or narrow country roads, they all command respect for their meticulous design and unwaveringly brutal execution. As Wardaddy leans out of the top of his tank, leading his men into fight after fight, not a single one disappoints. Despite the brooding family drama, you’re never far from the next ricocheting shell or flashing tracer round. One particular tank-on-tank clash is simply sublime. It’s intense, exciting and even harrowing at times.fury 3

At two and a bit hours long, the pace isn’t fast enough for it to zip by unnoticed, but it’s not a chore to sit through by any stretch of the imagination. The dialogue did induce a cringe or two on occasion, as if it was written for a melodrama but acted like a deeply serious Carl Theodor Dreyer film. However, mostly, the script and performances went hand in hand. Whether the team are sitting around a dinner table or cooped up in a tank on the brink of what may be their last stand, regardless of whether or not the dialogue can be occasionally cheesy, you’re guaranteed to be totally engrossed in what they are saying to one another.

The biggest compliment that I can pay Fury is to say that you definitely do get a sense of that family atmosphere between the quintet that Ayer wanted to instil. These men, these soldiers, they are entirely believable and Ayer has shown that if you can put a bit of personality into a World War film, then there is still something worth watching in the genre yet.

Fury is released in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow, Wednesday 22nd October 2014.

The Deer Hunter

A film probably most famous for its Russian roulette scenes which punctuate various anti-war points director Michael Cimino makes throughout the section set in Vietnam, but it’s a stonewall classic.

by Owen Hughes

deer hunter 2“Every time he comes up, he’s got no knife, he’s got no jacket, he’s got no pants, he’s got no boots. All he’s got is that stupid gun he carries around like John Wayne.”

Like most people, I also sometimes find watching the supposed must-watch films that critics rave about quite a daunting task. Particularly so when those films happen to be 182 minutes long, such is Michael Cimino’s 1978 Vietnam war drama, The Deer Hunter. I’m not entirely sure why the length of a movie can be as off-putting as it often is. I would quite happily sit down and watch three or four episodes of a TV series in one go, as I’ve done recently with the second series of Utopia. Perhaps it’s possibly due to the fact that if the first 50 minute long episode of a TV show is no good, you can stop. A film is more of a commitment. You are promising to give someone else’s art 10,800 seconds of your undivided attention; especially if you are planning to go to select cinemas this weekend to see the re-release of this 1978 classic.

Nevertheless, this staggering portrayal of a steelworker (Robert De Niro) in a small working class American town who joins up with his mates, including Christopher Walken and John Cazale, to go fight in the Vietnam war is as breathtaking today as it was back when it won five separate Oscars. The stark portrayal of POW camps, seedy backwater gambling joints and the loss and sacrifice of friends is as powerful today as it has ever been.

deer hunter 3

“You wanna play games? All right, I’ll play your fucking games.”

However, it is a film that does come with a certain amount of notoriety. For every positive review you’ll read, I wouldn’t be surprised to find another absolutely slating it. As mentioned, I’d always been slightly wary due to a strong cohort of folk who I know who had hated it. They’ve called it boring, pretentious and dull, which immediately gives you an impression of what to expect. The wedding scene near the beginning will either have you fascinated by the lives of these ordinary people about to go through a very extraordinary thing. Or, as happens fairly often apparently, will have you shifting about in your seat and checking your watch with regularity. Those people are wrong, of course, as the depiction of life for a group of small town working class hunters, confronting the horrors of the Vietnam war, and then going back to normal again, is totally engrossing.

De Niro once again shows why he’s one of the world’s best actors. Walken is also great and it’s a fantastic performance from a young Meryl Streep to boot, but ol’ Bobby is utterly, utterly superb. As his character takes charge of the situation (sometimes because he wants to, others because he has to) displaying a totally self-imposed lack of empathy for his fellow men, this man comes alive. There’s something real going on there. As his dignity is ripped away from him, he becomes one of cinemas most fascinating characters.

If you like films about the people, the every-man, and the part they played in the Vietnam war, then it is most definitely worth a watch and I can think of no better way to experience it than in the cinema. If you’re expecting a war film, you might be let down. Why not just sit down and play? Go on. Take a chance.

You can find Owen over on Twitter (@ohughes86) and you can find The Deer Hunter in cinemas from 1 August.