Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “Apocalypse Now” takes a radically distinct view of the Vietnam War. Instead of relying on familiar war film tropes, the film views war as a surreal and haunting dreamscape. Much like “The Deer Hunter” released just before it, the film’s anti-war statement is clear. It follows an officer tasked with assassinating a renegade officer hiding out in unforgiving jungles.
This was a real hole-in-one for screenwriter John Milius. Heavily inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness,” he took the basic premise while moving the setting from Africa to Vietnam. And it seemed like everything that came after, from the chilling score and the performances to the gritty cinematography, captured the real horrors of war at the time. “Apocalypse Now” truly did something new for the war movie genre.
Courage Under Fire (1996)
“Courage Under Fire” directed by Edward Zwick was the first Hollywood film about the Gulf War. What’s more, it also pushed buttons by addressing another contentious issue at the time – women in combat. But the essence of the plot is about honor under excruciatingly difficult circumstances, and how tough it can be to stay the course.
At the center of the story is Denzel Washington (who portrays Lieutenant Colonel Sterling). Sterling must uncover the truth about an incident in the past, one that might lead to deceased Captain Karen Walden (played by Meg Ryan in flashbacks) becoming the first woman to receive a Medal of Honor. As he digs deeper, the case becomes more complex – even as he struggles with a past burden of his own.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
“Hamburger Hill” is one of the best movies about the Vietnam War. It’s high time the film got the love it deserves after having flown under the radar for too long. The story follows a small US squadron and their desperate attempts to capture Hamburger Hill. But this isn’t another war film depicting special missions during battle.
It delves deeper into addressing compelling issues such as racism on the front lines and the sweeping anti-war movement back in America. Featuring an incredible cast and performances from Don Cheadle, Dylan McDermott, and Don James, “Hamburger Hill” is a hard-hitting portrayal of war.
Roberto Rossellini released several movies between 1945 and 1946 portraying different phases of WWII. “Paisan” contains six episodic stories that center on the Italian campaign as it progresses upwards through the Italian peninsula. The film was shot soon after real-life events in the frontlines. Known for his exceptional neo-realism, Rossellini harnesses the power of filming on location. The sheer ugliness of war stares viewers in the face, partly because the devastation on Italy was plain as day.
He could’ve picked up a camera and began filming without ceremony and the picture would’ve been clear. The film was even more impactful since Rossellini employed both professional actors and ordinary folk to star in the film. A blend of script, narrative, and on-the-spot improvisation gives the film authenticity through lived experience. “Paisan” is a crushing depiction of the perils of war, for both soldiers and everyday people already struggling to get by.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
“The Last of the Mohicans” is Michael Mann’s film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of the same name. The Mohicans have co-existed peacefully alongside the British so far. But when a rogue scout kidnaps the daughters of a British colonel, the last members of this tribe are compelled to a rescue mission.
The mission lands them in the crossfires of a battle they want nothing to do with – the gruesome French and Indian War. What distinguishes this film from others Mann has directed is the unabashed display of emotion, which is rare for his films. His filmmaking also seems more epic and sweeping in scope.