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Essential Cinema is a look at some of my favorite films, those that I love, those that have helped shape my views, and those that I wholeheartedly recommend. In total, I will discuss sixty films over the course of twelve weeks, each week highlighting five films that revolve around a central theme or focus.
War is a frequent and important subject in film, as wars have shaped, are shaping, and will shape the world we live in. Presently, the United States is engaged in two wars on foreign soil and two of the five films mentioned below reflect these conflicts.
A CLASSIC – Apocalypse Now
Arguably the greatest films ever made about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece, follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) as he travels deep into the Cambodian jungle as part of a covert operation to locate and kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has disappeared and reportedly gone insane.
Loosely adapted from the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but recontextualized within the Vietnam War, the film does any amazing job of exploring the horrors of war, the politics surrounding the war, and the themes within the source material.
Making the film was incredibly difficult and was chronicled by Coppola’s wife in the fascinating documentary Hearts of Darkness. A director’s cut was released titled Apocalypse Now Redux, which reinstated about 40 minutes and a number of lengthy scenes. Additionally, a related film worth watching is Platoon, for which Oliver Stone won an Oscar in 1987, as it features Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen’s son, as the protagonist.
AN INDIE GEM – The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker follows a bomb disposal team in Iraq as they work to disarm improvised explosive devices in extremely difficult situations.
Director Kathryn Bigelow, most famous for directing Point Break and the former wife of James Cameron, won the Academy Award for Best Director in 2010 for The Hurt Locker, which was the first time a woman ever won for directing.
The film was applauded for it’s realistic portrayal of the war and was filmed in Jordan, employing many Iraqi refugees as extras, with many scenes shot only miles from the Iraq border.
A DOCUMENTARY – Restrepo
There have been a number of documentaries and feature films made about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of all the documentaries, Restrepo is one that simply tries to tell it like it is for the soldiers that are in the thick of it. The film documents the soldiers and their experience while positioned at a remote outpost on the front lines in Afghanistan.
The film was made by journalist Sebastian Junger and photojournalist Tim Hetherington who has since died while covering the revolution in Libya. It was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary early this year, though it did not win.
A CONTEMPORARY FILM – Three Kings
Three Kings was possibly the first mainstream film to be made that dealt with the Gulf War. The plot follows Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) as they attempt to steal gold bullion from a hidden Iraqi bunker that was stolen from by Iraq from Kuwait during the war.
Though the film in terms of plot is a heist film and is filled with comedic moments as well as dramatic ones, overall it’s a biting satire of the Gulf War and the United States’ role in the conflict.
David O. Russell has directed a number of other well received films including The Fighter, his latest which also starred Mark Wahlberg.
A FOREIGN PERSPECTIVE – Das Boot
I’ve always been a fan of submarine films, even the bad ones. Germany’s Das Boot, however, is by far the greatest submarine film ever made. The film follows the fictional crew of a German U-Boat during WWII.
Adjusted for inflation, the film cost nearly $200 million and attempted to capture submarine life and warfare in exacting detail. During the shooting of the film, actors were not allowed to go into sunlight, and huge submarine sets on rigs were constructed so that they could move, buckle, and shake during filming.
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