Few films have been as iconic as “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which sparked curiosity and attention for its joint production. The Americans and the Japanese collaborating on a war film was unheard of. Art had truly transcended borders and historical enemy lines! The story follows events leading up to Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
With Pearl Harbor, the United States had no choice but to get involved in WWII. The story unfolds from two opposing viewpoints with glimpses of the lives, motivations, fears, and convictions on each side. Featuring no A-list celebrities (a conscious filmmaking choice) the real star of the film is its narrative.
Pork Chop Hill (1959)
“Pork Chop Hill” is a cinematic gem based on the true story of an American assault during the Korean War. The mission was to take Pork Chop Hill where a big group of Chinese soldiers had deeply dug in and taken refuge. Director Lewis Milestone infuses the narrative with haunting anti-war themes similar to the ones present in his 1930 adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
This time, however, the focus is on the blasé nature of the leaders and higher-ups in war – hopeless, impotent, and feeble men at the helm of global conflicts. With memorable performances by the one and only Gregory Peck, the film is a powerful indictment of war and the men who seemingly lead it.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is an adventure film that follows a group of veterans as they go back to Vietnam. Their mission, even after having retired from active duty? Find treasure they had been forced to abandon during wartime. The film flashes back to scenes of battle, compelling each one to confront past burdens and where life has led them over the years.
Lee’s excellent creative vision blurs the line between Vietnam’s past and the present. Above all, the film is a scathing criticism of America’s rampant cultural imperialism. And unlike many war films, this one delves deep into the lesser-known experiences of Black soldiers during the Vietnam War. Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. give some awesome performances along the way.
The Chimes at Midnight (1965)
“The Chimes at Midnight” is Orson Welles’s adaptation of Shakespearean plays transformed into a brilliant war movie. Welles was constrained by a limited budget but still manages to create sweeping scenes of medieval battles. Most importantly, the movie is about how dated ideas of honor and duty can slowly chip away at the joyful parts of human nature.
Welles plays the impervious John Falstaff. Falstaff is unrepentant but at the same time, a good man as any in every way that matters. At the heart of the story is his strained relationship with Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), the man who would become Henry V. Hal goes on to epitomize a king who inspires loyalty among friends and terror in those who dare to cross him.
They Were Expendable (1945)
“They Were Expendable” is a grim account of how a pair of Navy men during WWII (John Wayne and Robert Montgomery) attempt to convince superiors that small PT boats must have a place during battles, and not just larger vessels. To understand why the men arrived at this conclusion, some context is in order. The film takes place during America’s early involvement in the war.
Even as the Allies rejoiced, they were suffering one setback after another. Many of the people involved in making the film had also experienced the war, either firsthand or in some other form – which explains the intensity in every scene. The “expendable” in the title is all-encompassing – boats, ships, and human lives. Service meant acknowledging and living with this truth every waking moment.