“War Horse” is an adaption of a 1982 novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo. Steven Spielberg gave it a second life on the silver screen. The story follows Albert, a young soldier, and Joey, his horse, on a journey across Europe during WWI. On their way, the two discover not one shred of glory in war, only horror and cruelty.
But in the middle of absurdity and bloodshed, Albert finds hope thanks to Joey who miraculously survives a casualty. Spielberg’s adaptation does a remarkable job of capturing moments of human frailty. There’s also the extraordinary bond between man and animal, which is magnified a hundred times over in times of crisis.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
“The Bridge on the River Kwai” has long been regarded as one of the greatest war films ever made. Based on true events around the infamous Burma Railway, the movie shines a light on how British prisoners of war endured terrible conditions at the hands of the Japanese. The prisoners are tasked with constructing a bridge. In the process, they develop grudging respect (even friendship) with one another.
When intelligence officers destroy the bridge, it renders the Japanese war effort into literal dust. Based on the 1952 novel by Pierre Boulle and directed by David Leab, the film bluntly addresses the futility and trauma of war. The movie addresses lesser-known stories about WWII and although memorable, the true events behind the Burma Railway construction were far more horrific.
Three Kings (1999)
“Three Kings” begins on a light enough note. Three soldiers (George Clooney, Ice Cube, and Mark Wahlberg) try and make the most of their days in the Middle East. The Persian Gulf War has ended and the group attempts to make an easy score. Before you can blink, their story takes a darker turn. They become immersed in the plight of the refugees while trying to avoid the attention and wrath of the infamous Iraqi Republican Guard.
The victory in the Gulf might have been decisive but it’s clear there’s unfinished business still. All the soldiers want is to not get involved, but they find it impossible (and thoughtless) to just get in and out. What a preview of the years to come, where the disconnect and mistrust between the U.S. and the Middle East would only continue to grow.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Director Stanley Kubrick is ubiquitous to the war film genre, and “Full Metal Jacket” is among his best works. The film is a tense and nightmarish exploration of the Vietnam War with the first half showing soldiers in boot camp and the second in Vietnam, facing combat.
It’s a story of how war dehumanizes and how it doesn’t necessarily begin only after being shipped overseas. Both halves of the film are characterized by trauma, showing how the nightmare can take root at home during training. This is as brutal as war films get, with terrors so gripping and real that “Full Metal Jacket” occasionally feels like a horror movie.
Ride With the Devil (1999)
Directed by Ang Lee, “Ride with the Devil” takes us into the mayhem of guerrilla fighting during the Civil War. Two members of the Missouri Bushwhackers (Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich) fight the Jayhawkers miles and worlds away from the official front lines. While hiding out and resisting pro-Union forces, the two men meet a former slave called Holt (Jeffrey Wright), which becomes a turning point in their journey.
The film is an adaptation of the novel “Woe to Live On” by Daniel Woodrell. Lee doesn’t delve too much into the background of the Civil War which confused some viewers and disappointed critics. What the film lacks in context it makes up for with a clear message: people go to war for several convoluted reasons. Yet, the experience of war drags any conceivable reason through the mud. The only endeavor is to leave war behind.