Written and directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick best known for 1978’s Days of Heaven, 1998’s The Thin Red Line, and 2011’s The Tree of Life, A Hidden Life is a visually spectacular and deeply contemplative film that uses brilliant cinematography and philosophical voiceovers to tell the true life story of Franz Jägerstätter. Visualized by the sweeping bucolic mountain vistas of Austria, we first meet the farmer Franz, played by German actor August Diehl, enjoying his peaceful country life with his wife Fani, played by Austrian actress Valerie Pachner, and we see his life play out over several years as they have children. However, at the outbreak of World War II, Franz is sent away to train for the German military but is allowed to return home after several months training. Eventually, the German military is in need of new soldiers to fight so they call up Franz to swear allegiance to Hitler and become a soldier in his army. A deeply religious man, he refuses to take an oath to Hitler who goes against all of his beliefs. Because of his openly defiant disobedience, he is sent to prison until he pledges allegiance, but, after months of still not giving in, he is transferred to Berlin where he faces a death sentence for treason. At the same time, his wife and three young daughters remain in Austria where they are subjected to insults and outright rejection from the local villagers who believe Franz’s act is reprehensible. Resembling the long and arduous time that he must wait in prison for what he knows is ultimately death, the movie is effectively slow-paced and is almost three hours long, which is fairly typical for a Terrence Malick picture. This somewhat unorthodox approach allows the viewer to truly contemplate what it means to suffer for your beliefs and stand up to what is evil in the world; especially with its shots of nature and the grandeur of the mountains, the film becomes somewhat of a spiritual or religious cinematic experience. Overall, I found it to be a truly magnificent movie that reinforces the unique genius of Terrence Malick who is able to create a film that reflects on the beauty and destruction of the world through the eyes of one of the most famous World War II conscientious objectors who later became a martyr in the Catholic Church.
Co-written and directed by Sam Mendes best known for 1999’s American Beauty and the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall, 1917 is a remarkable technical and cinematic achievement of a movie that relies on resembling a long shot filmed in real time to brilliantly capture what it must have been like as a soldier in the trenches during World War I. The premise of the movie is fairly simple and straightforward but the complexity of using cinematography to tell a story in remarkable detail makes for a truly extraordinary cinematic experience. Two British soldiers Lance Corporal Tom Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, and Lance Corporal William Schofield, played by George MacKay, are told by their commanding officer who is played by Colin Firth that they must cross enemy territory in order to give word to the 2nd Battalion in which Blake’s brother is part of to call off their attack against the German military. Set over a course of several hours beginning on April 6, 1917, the two young soldiers embark on a harrowing adventure in which they face very real dangers in the no man’s land, the abandoned German trenches, the open French countryside, and eventually the frontline. As a result of the camera work, it feels as if the audience is right there with the soldiers and are experiencing the same terrifying aspects of warfare. The camera moves its way to closely follow the two main characters and almost the entire movie feels like one long shot in which the camera never stops filming the action. In another effective choice, the filmmaker decides to use two relatively unknown and new actors as the main characters to show how war affects the relatively anonymous foot soldiers, while the leadership and such major stars as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, and Richard Madden are given less screentime. Overall, I found it to be one of the more unique war movies as a result of its magnificent cinematography and creative use of the long shot technique and therefore will stand the test of time as a true cinematic masterpiece.
Directed by Roland Emmerich who is best known for such Hollywood Blockbusters as 1996’s Independence Day and 2000’s The Patriot, Midway is a large-scale war action movie that heavily relies on CGI special effects to recreate the pivotal Battle of Midway during World War II but does not fully satisfy as a well-rounded movie as a result of its fairly generic script and characters. Based on true events of the beginning of the American involvement in World War II, the movie shows the devastating surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Empire of Japan. The plot follows a bunch of American characters from the top with the Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, played by Woody Harrelson, to the top intelligence officer in the region Edwin Layton, played by Patrick Wilson, and all the way down to the Naval bomber and fighter pilots, including the real life Dick Best who is played by Ed Skrein and Wade McClusky who is played by Luke Evans. Also, unlike most traditional war movies, the film also follows several key Japanese Naval commanders and officers who are shown making battle decisions based on their best interest. After the somewhat haphazard introduction to almost too many characters to keep count, the story leads up to June 4, 1942 when the Japanese engage the American military at and around the remote islands of the Midway Atoll, a strategic base that allows for closer range to the Japanese Islands. What ensues is the Battle of Midway in which American aircraft carriers and their warplanes go up against the Japanese counterparts in what would become the one of the largest naval battles of World War II. In dramatic and spectacular fashion, the movie effectively uses special effects to capture what the battle must have been like with a constant flurry of aircraft and anti-aircraft fire on both sides. The main mission of the Americans is to destroy as many of the Japanese aircraft carriers as possible in order to recapture control of the Pacific Theater after the mass destruction of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The script also does scratch the surface of the personal lives of those involved, especially the Naval pilots, but is ineffective because it comes off as cheesy and formulaic, making for unnecessary storylines to the main thrust of the movie to portray a specific battle. Overall, I found it to be a suitably entertaining war movie that does a good job of using special effects to fashion realistic and thrilling battle sequences in order to tell the important story of the Battle of Midway, but, as a whole, relies on too many characters and a rather average screenplay to truly become an iconic war movie.
Written and directed by critically acclaimed New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi best known for 2016’s The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit is a terrifically well-made comedy drama that has the unusual premise of satirizing the Nazis to provide a powerful message about hatred while also being highly entertaining as a result of its very irreverent humor. The plot follows a ten-year-old boy living in Nazi Germany during World War II named Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler, played by the talented young British actor Roman Griffin Davis, who is a fervent follower of the Nazis and happens to have Adolf Hitler, played by the brilliantly funny Taika Waititi, as his imaginary friend. Jojo and his best friend Yorki are active members of the Hitler Youth under the local leadership of the foolish Captain Klenzendorf, played by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell. Often at the disgust of the imaginary Hitler, Jojo has to deal with his secretively anti-Nazi single mother Rosie, played by Scarlett Johansson, who we eventually learn is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa, played by the acclaimed young New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie. When he first discovers her, Jojo has great disdain for Elsa because of his fervent Nazi beliefs, but, over time, they strike up a friendship with Jojo’s understanding that it could help him learn about the so-called Jewish enemy. He often fights with the childish and ridiculous imagination of Hitler who somewhat uncomfortably becomes the comic relief of the movie, and they obviously disagree about befriending a Jew. In addition to the main characters, the film’s comedic nature is greatly assisted by a cast of rather buffoonish characters played by such highly talented actors as Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, and Alfie Allen. Despite all the preposterous shenanigans and over-the-top satirical portrayal of the Nazis, the film ends on a positive and important note by showing how someone so indoctrinated by hate like Jojo can come around to despise his previous actions and beliefs by simply getting to know the supposed enemy of Nazi Germany, Elsa as a Jewish girl. Overall, despite the fact that the movie is not for everyone as a result of its comedic depiction of the Nazis, I found it to be one of the more entertaining and incisive satires as a result of its terrific acting and very creative and irreverent script.
Directed by critically acclaimed Finnish director Dome Karukoski, Tolkien is a well-intentioned biopic, that is slightly disappointing, about one of the most important 20th century authors J. R. R. Tolkien and tries to explore what possibly inspired him to write the famous fantasy books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. Living a difficult childhood as an orphan living in impoverished Birmingham, England, Tolkien, played by Nicholas Hoult best known for 2002’s About a Boy and 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, is heavily influenced by a close group of friends he meets while studying at a prestigious school sponsored by the local Catholic Church. Eventually, because of his high marks, he goes on to study at Oxford University where he discovers his love for languages and continues to pursue his love interest Edith Bratt, played by Lily Collins who is the daughter of English musician Phil Collins. The movie is interspersed with flashbacks to his horrific experiences as a soldier in the trenches during World War War I in which some of his best friends are killed in action. The filmmaker makes the case that the creative and idealistic Tolkien was partly inspired by his wartime experiences to craft his later high fantasy books about the struggle between good and evil mixed in with magic and heroism. The movie sometimes goes overboard on focusing on the events and objects in his life that are visually connected to the characters and themes of his published works. Many of the references may go over most audience’s heads, but I could see how it would be a treat for fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings book series. Overall, despite the historical visual aesthetic and commendable acting performances, I found the film to be sometimes too slow and not really geared for general audiences as a result of the constant inundation of reference points in the otherwise fascinating story of Tolkien’s life.
Directed by French filmmaker Eva Husson in her second feature film, Girls of the Sun is a surprisingly less-than-remarkable war drama that has the best of intentions by telling the story of a group of Kurdish female soldiers fighting ISIS. The all-female battalion led by the tough former lawyer Bahar is based on the remarkable Yazidi female soldiers from Iraqi Kurdistan fighting alongside their male counterparts in defeating the brutal ISIS regime that had taken hold of their territory. In a rather disjointed way in which the plot swerves rapidly between characters, the film follows this group of women who were compelled to fight after being freed from ISIS captivity as sex slaves and many of their husbands and sons were either killed or captured. The movie unnecessarily chooses to present their story through the eyes of a Westerner, specifically a veteran French war correspondent named Mathilde who is embedded with the unit for several days. Over the course of several days in which the film takes place, we witness the female soldiers trying to take back their small village in the Kurdish territory of Iraq and are engaged in several well-shot battle sequences. At random intervals, the filmmaker attempts to take a closer glimpse of the characters by presenting flashbacks of mostly the main character Bahar who is showed being taken captive, sexually assaulted, and searching for her son. Overall, I was disappointed in the cinematic treatment of such a compelling and important story about a group of courageous and powerful women; the narrative incoherence and lack of character development does not do any justice to the truly remarkable protagonists.
Based on the 2013 novel of the same name written by Rhidian Brooke, The Aftermath is a visually stylish period drama with a terrific cast and intriguing story, but the film falters as a result of its formulaic and soapy script. Set in war-ravaged Hamburg, Germany in 1946 following the end of World War II, the plot follows a beautiful young English woman named Rachael, played by Oscar nominee Keira Knightley, who reunites with her husband Lewis Morgan, played by Jason Clarke, serving as a colonel in the British Forces Germany tasked with helping rebuild post-war Germany. Unbeknownst to her on her arrival to Germany, they are to live in a large mansion owned by a German widower who is going to be displaced from his home along with his teenage daughter. The previously wealthy architect Stefan Lubert, played by Emmy winner Alexander Skarsgård, and his rebellious daughter Susan are allowed to stay in the attic of the house until the time comes when they have to move out on the orders of the British military. Deeply unhappy about the situation and having to live in the ruins of a city away from the comforts of London, Rachael expresses her great displeasure to her husband who is often out of the house working long hours. Almost from the instant that the characters meet one another, it becomes rather predictable that Rachael and Stefan pretty soon begin a friendship and then a intimate romantic relationship that is kept a secret from Lewis for a time. Aesthetically well-crafted, the movie seems to drag on for a while as the illicit affair begins to cause great problems in Rachael’s marriage and Stefan’s connection with his depressed daughter who lost her mother and his wife in a bombing during the war. Overall, I thought it was a decent movie that surprisingly did not use the extremely talented cast to its full potential and relied too heavily on the expected tropes of the romantic drama genre.
Directed and produced by Peter Jackson who is best known for the worldwide phenomenon Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series, They Shall Not Grow Old is a truly remarkable and game-changing documentary that explores the daily lives of British and Imperial soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War I. The film is compiled from over 100 hours of original film footage taken from the Imperial War Museums and the BBC based in the United Kingdom, as well as over 600 hours of interviews given by 200 veterans in various oral history projects. Although it is comprised of the now dated archival footage taken during the war, the amazing documentary vibrantly brings the soldiers back to life by colorizing the black-and-white footage and altering it to better match modern cinematic formats. Going even a step further, a team of lip readers were assembled to try and understand what the soldiers were saying in the silent footage and, in turn, their work is used by voice actors who speak the very words that the soldiers may have been using. This pioneering use of modern technology throughout the film has a profound impact on the viewer who for the very first time is able to witness the most realistic account of a war that ended 100 years ago, stories that have been lost through time and place. Unlike a traditional documentary in which there is a single narrator that pieces together a narrative about the subject and many interviews are presented as is in a linear fashion, the filmmaker makes the unusual yet extremely effective decision to rely on audio given by 120 veterans interviewed over the years as the only narration. Each soldiers’ oral testimony gives the already vivid documentary a much more personal tone in which the soldiers themselves recount first-hand their harrowing experiences during such a tragic and brutal war that resulted in the deaths of millions and widespread destruction across Europe. Overall, I found it to be one of the more mesmerizing historical documentaries that I have ever seen, and I have no doubt that the film’s unique realism will stand the test of time as one of the most important pieces of history about World War I.
Directed by Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman best known for 2017’s City of Ghosts and 2015’s Cartel Land, A Private War is one of the most powerful films depicting the horrors of war brilliantly told through the eyes of a real-life war correspondent and is elevated by the extraordinary acting performances. The story tells the true story of famed American journalist Marie Colvin, played by Oscar-nominated British actress Rosamund Pike in a career-best performance, who works for the London-based Sunday Times covering foreign wars throughout the world over the course of several decades. The film itself chronicles her riveting story from the year 2000 and through the climax of the movie in 2012 as Colvin perilously journeys to the war-ravaged city of Homs during the brutal Syrian Civil War that is still ongoing today. The talented filmmaker whose documentaries explored violent conflicts in Syria and Mexico expertly crafts what feels like extremely realistic portrayals of the hellish nature of war. Although she was not as recognized in her native country the United States, Marie Colvin was considered one of the greatest war correspondents who courageously went into extremely dangerous combat situations in order to report back to the world of the atrocities perpetrated during wartime. One of the first battle sequences shows her working in Sri Lanka in 2001 when she throws caution to the wind by being in the middle of a gunfight in which a grenade explodes resulting in her losing her left eye. Eventually, over the course of other conflicts, including the war in Iraq, she meets the famed war photographer Paul Conroy, played by Jamie Dornan, and enlists him as her partner and photographer. The true impact of the film involves the personal struggles that Colvin experiences on her trips back home to London and while on assignment as a result of her immersion in horrific conflicts. She most likely has PTSD which manifests itself in her inability to maintain romantic relationships and her propensity to drink too much alcohol. Pike’s remarkable performance shows just how fearless and complicated a figure that Marie Colvin was: she often wore a eyepatch and designer bras and could easily blend in in the high society parties of London as well as conversing with brutal dictators such as the Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. Similar to her lifestyle, the audience is taken on an emotional roller coaster between action-packed traumatic war sequences and her somewhat more normal life back in London even though she experiences nightmares and self-medicates with alcohol. Her romantic relationships are equally as complicated as she sporadically continues a sexual relationship with her ex-husband and begins a new love affair with the wealthy Tony Shaw, played by Stanley Tucci. Showing her bravado, she often ignores the safety concerns of her editor Sean Ryan, played by the terrific British actor Tom Hollander, and ventures into increasingly life-threatening situations. In one of the most affecting war sequences in cinematic history, the heart-wrenching movie concludes with the intensely violent and catastrophic siege of the Syrian city Homs, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians caused by the Assad regime. Tragically, Marie Colvin becomes the subject of what could have been one of her many stories about the personal effects that war has on its victims. Overall, I found it to be a top-notch movie about journalism, in particular the thankless job of war correspondents who put their lives at risk on a daily basis, that is brought to life by the magnificent acting from Rosamund Pike who gives an Oscar-worthy performance. The film’s subject matter is particularly significant at a time when journalists are criticized during today’s highly divisive political climate, and it shows the importance of journalists who often risk everything in order to get a story.
Based on the 1928 play written by R. C. Sherriff that has been adapted to film four previous times, Journey’s End is a gripping war film set in the battlefields of World War I that is effectively able to explore the psychological effects experienced by a group of British officers as a result of a truly outstanding cast. The story follows C-company of the British Army who are sent to the northern French trenches for a six-day rotation in March 1918 during a time when a major German offensive may take place. Clearly based on a theatrical production, the film is much more of a intimate affair in which the characters are immersed in emotional dialogue rather than a typical war movie focused more on the action sequences, and most of the story takes place in an underground bunker reserved for officers in the trenches. The unit is led by Captain Stanhope, played by Sam Claflin, who is clearly suffering from PTSD after witnessing the horrors of war and resorts to drinking to soothe his severe depression. Rounding out the all-star cast, Paul Bettany plays Stanhope’s best friend Lieutenant Osborne, Stephen Graham plays the more upbeat Second Lieutenant Trotter, and Toby Jones plays the officers’ cook Private Mason. Things change with the arrival of the very young new officer Second Lieutenant Raleigh, played by Asa Butterfield, who knows Stanhope from school and whose sister is in a relationship with Stanhope. Fearful that his tragic change of character will be revealed to Raleigh and thereby his love interest, Captain Stanhope is upset that Raleigh has been assigned to his unit and feels that he must try to put on a more hopeful façade. Throughout the movie, the characters try to distract themselves from their horrific situations by recounting their personal civilian lives and talking about their futures back home. Underscoring how warfare changes one’s psyche, the vibrant Second Lieutenant Raleigh rapidly becomes a shell of himself and more like the despondent Stanhope after he goes on his first raid across no man’s land to the German trenches in which several of his fellow man are brutally killed. Overall, I found it to be one of the more emotionally powerful films about World War I that brings to life the truism that war is hell and has a profound impact on those who serve.