Archive for war crimes

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2018 by cdascher

bridgeOur most recent Oscars winning movie was The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957 British-American war film directed by David Lean. The film stars Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, the senior British officer; Sessue Hayakawa as Japanese Commandant Colonel Saito; William Holden as survivor and US Navy Commander Shears; and Jack Hawkins as British Major Warden. The film starts when a train full of British soldiers arrives at a Japanese labor camp under Saito’s control. Saito informs the group that regardless of rank, they will all have to perform manual labor to build a bridge over the nearby River Kwai to connect Bangkok and Rangoon.

This does not sit well with Nicholson, who explains repeatedly to Saito that the Geneva Conventions expressly exempt commanding officers from manual labor. However, Saito is having none of it. The two begin to engage in a battle of wills – with their men looking on. Shears is already at the camp, observing from afar and quite often trying to get out of as much work as possible.  

The David Lean streak continues here at Red Carpet Roulette. And we can’t have a David Lean movie without Alec Guinness. And while William Holden’s name is at the top of the poster, this really is Guinness’s show. (His name, by the way, is an anagram for ‘genuine class’.) I find Colonel Nicholson to be one of cinema’s more compelling characters. He refuses to legitimize Saito’s disregard for the laws of war with his own cooperation – even in the face of torture and possible death – and Guinness sells this as a sort of ultra-British stolid fanaticism. If on the homefront they are adopting an attitude of “keep calm and carry on,” Nicholson faces his captor with a strategy of “decline to submit and politely remind the enemy that he is a war criminal.” It’s impossible for the audience, like the men under his command, not to cheer him on as a righteous warrior. The scene where Saito concedes to Nicholson’s terms is gold. Saito ‘magnanimously’ rescinds his demand that the officers work under the pretense of a patriotic holiday and Nicholson stumbles out into the arms of his cheering men. Cut back to Saito in his office – crying. Continue reading

Advertisements

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2017 by cdascher

Lawrence_of_arabia_ver3_xxlgIn Oxford England, home to some of the oldest higher learning institutions in the world, is the Bodleian Library’s Treasury, where they display important and historical books to the public. Among the blackletter parchment texts and First Folios, you can see the manuscript for the memoirs of a British intelligence officer from the First World War and Oxford alum, T.E. Lawrence. An archaeologist; like many of his generation his career was interrupted by service in the war. While certainly not the only literary figure to emerge from the Great War, writers like Siegfried Sassoon and Ernst Junger described an experience harder to attach a narrative: the misery of trench life and futile battlefield draws that went on for years. Lawrence served in the Middle East, aiding the Arab Bedouins in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire, taking not only  the role of battlefield commander, but adopting the Bedouins’ dress and aspects of their culture. He stood out as an almost swashbuckling figure, leading a small army of robed fighters on camels and horses across the desert. Romantic as he may have appeared, in no way did his dashing image insulate him from the horrors of war, and his role as a bridge between two nations left him in a deeply conflicted position.

Over the course of our project, I’ve realized that many Oscar winning pictures are about war. As someone who is a staunch anti-militarist, this was off-putting at first; however, as the daughter and granddaughter of veterans I am also grateful for it. If anything, seeing tell of the horrors of war and the individual lives impacted solidifies my convictions.

Lawrence of Arabia is a powerful film on a host of levels, not the least of which is its visuals. The film has gorgeous landscapes as our protagonist spans the globe; the scenes in the desert are stunning and made me wish I could visit soon. One error I think we made in watching this film was neglecting to find time and space to see it on the big screen. That’s a little hard to do with a three and a half hour film though, especially when you have a toddler. Continue reading

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