Archive for fight war not wars

PLATOON (1986)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2017 by cdascher

Platoon_posters_86Long before I was born, my grandfather crossed the ocean to join a war that had already been ongoing for years. Nations had allowed authoritarian strongmen to take control of state, and they in turn waged war on their neighbors. From what I understand, the fighting had pretty much ended by the time my grandfather arrived, but judging by the photographs my grandmother showed me, he was able to see the awful results of these criminal states. With its global scope, good vs. evil narrative and large set piece battles, screenwriters found the Second World War readily adaptable, and movies about the conflict appeared early and often. When the subsequent generation went to war in Southeast Asia, putting it onscreen was a more complicated affair. The films that did appear focused less on battlefield heroics than on the moral and psychological complexities of the conflict. Then, a decade after Saigon’s fall to the communists, Hollywood produced perhaps that generation’s definitive statement on the Vietnam War: the unsettling Platoon.

The movie starts with Private Chris Taylor (Sheen) arriving in Vietnam to take his place in an Army infantry platoon. With an ineffectual lieutenant in command, de facto leadership falls to the platoon’s NCOs, particularly the brutal Barnes (Berenger) and compassionate Elias (Defoe). After Barnes’ crimes bring the two into open hostility, the men of the unit align with one or the other, initiating a war-within-a-war; combating the enemy while distrusting one another.

I think this is the most I have ever liked Charlie Sheen. In fact, this may be the only time I have liked Charlie Sheen. His character, Private Taylor, is relatable, human and engaging. I had a hard time getting excited about watching this film. The world has felt so heavy and violent and defeating, and the idea of sitting down to watch a movie about a grueling, devastating, unwinnable war did not exactly feel like how I wanted to spend my free time. However, Platoon did a good job of showing the confusion and desperation that militarism breeds. The characters are interesting and strong. None of them are perfect; they are engaging in large part because of what they bring out in each other. As awful as he was, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Barnes, for example. Continue reading


Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2015 by cdascher

The_Deer_Hunter_posterThe vagaries of our lotto system have given us an interesting juxtaposition these past few goes-around. Notably all three have been about war in one way or another. Our last entry’s movie, Braveheart, was a thrilling epic that pulls you into the cause of undeniably heroic protagonist. This rousing medieval battle epic is sandwiched between the previous Best Years of Our Lives, which takes a much more sober view of the effects of war on the people fighting, and our similarly themed current film.

The Deer Hunter concerns a close knit group of friends in a blue collar steel mill town during the Vietnam War. Three of them enlist together, one immediately after his wedding. They celebrate the wedding and enjoy the serenity of one last hunting trip in the mountains before departing. The war proves to be horrific, especially when the men are held as POWs by sadistic guerrilla captors. Later, they adjust to the physical and psychological traumas they received while serving.

This film really comes in three parts – the life of the trio in their hometown before deployment, their time in Vietnam, and the situations they face following the war and being sent home. Cutting between these very different eras was a bit jarring as a viewer, but upon further reflection I think the decision in editing places the viewer in such an emotional state on purpose – to help us empathize with the men themselves. Transitioning from military life and war to civilian life (and vice versa) IS jarring and destabilizing. The juxtaposition of the different experiences of our protagonists helps those of us watching relate to what they are going through.

This film features stellar performances by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. Walken, in the role of Nick, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He plays a quiet, introspective person who is never far away from De Niro’s character Mike. They take trips to the woods often to hunt deer, exist in nature, and enjoy the quiet, with Nick especially enjoying being in the presence of the trees. When they face the hell of war later in Saigon and other parts of Vietnam, especially as POWs, Mike reminds Nick of this. The memory of that peace is not easily held onto, though, in the midst of brutal torture and violence. The men can barely hold on to the memory of their former lives. Continue reading


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2014 by cdascher

It’s no secret that I am not a huge fan of A. black and white films, B. old films, and C. films about war. I wasn’t thrilled going into the viewing of this feature. At one point, though, I made a comment to Mouse that summarizes how I feel about this film and it’s significance. I was looking at Paul, the protagonist, who we follow as he goes from a young German man in school to a soldier on the frontlines in World War I. He enlists at the urging of his esteemed professor and classmates in an effort to valiantly serve his country – but a few years in, he learns all too well the futility and brutality of war. In one scene, I looked at his countenance and said, “He could be a young man today – as he was cast, he could be a modern soldier.

That is why this film, based on the renown book with the same title, is relevant. It depicts the relationships formed between the enlisted with heart and sensitivity. While the frontlines as they once were don’t exist in the modern theater of war in the same way much of the time, the violence of artillery and bombs and grenades is as shocking and jarring now as it was then. We remain engaged in a war in Afghanistan that has needlessly claimed lives and is, for all intents and purposes, going nowhere. So while this film is old, and in black and white, and set in another country, it hardly feels dated.

This is indeed an old one, only the second Best Picture with sound and third winner overall. As such, I was particularly keen on seeing how the technical aspects of the film were handled. I find the transition to sound an interesting phenomenon. As I’ve understood the story, the introduction of sound necessitated a whole new batch of technology, the handling of which had a deleterious effect on other aspects of filmmaking, particularly cinematography. I’ve tended to imagine sound films of this era as primitive curiosities, more like stage plays with a camera rolling, with the settings in interiors or soundstages clearly recognizable as such. In this, All Quiet On The Western Front exceeded my expectations. Yes, it had the uneven, noisy sound and Continue reading