Saturday, 13 February 2010

2009 in Review: War

Films on war have been a norm every year – from historical All Quiet on the Western Front, to The Deer Hunter to Saving Private Ryan. This year was a bit of different spin, we had films on war but instead of the highlights being the Vietnam War or World War II we had contemporary war films on America’s plight in the Middle East. The Hurt Locker was an early gem that impressed me. It was a riveting piece cast excellently from Renner’s leading man to Ralph Fiennes’ cameo. Fellow summer film Inglourious Basterds was more in line with the traditional war epic, kind of. We’ve been to World War II before, but never like this. I was reticent about appreciation of the film as you know, as I’ve said before the target audience would eat this up – and they did. I just was not part of the audience. Still even I could not ignore the scintillating performances of Christoph Waltz and especially Diane Kruger – certainly, neither would be my pick for a multitude of laurels but they’re performances were the highlight of the film for me with that intelligent Chapter Four standing out as the best of the lot – strangely, the one that was Christoph Waltz free. Still, Diane Kruger’s uninhibited turn as Helen Von Bismarck was the most significant part (acting wise) in Tarantino’s Basterds.
                       
The Messenger came out of nowhere turning into one of the more significant examinations of war. It was actually free of any scenes in or around combat, but the tale of a soldier recently come home whose job is to now inform the families of victims of soldiers’ death was one of the more harrowing pieces of the last few years. It’s obvious to see what the film’s selling point is though. It doesn’t show us so much the horrors of the war as it shows the trauma of war for the families of soldiers. Woody Harrelson’s Tony makes an astute point to the hypocrisy of it all. Families all wave and host parties to celebrate deployments and then are shocked when soldiers turn up dead. Of course, not all families are turning a blind eye to the potential misfortune ahead. Samantha Morton’s widow doesn’t, and neither does the entire cast of Brothers, I film I enjoyed much. The first half of Brothers, in fact, rests on this. One of my favourite scenes occurs as the soldiers turn up to tell Portman’s Grace of her husband’s (nonexistent) death. I wonder if Ben Foster’s Will would have taken to her too… There is not overt sadness here, Grace knew this moment was a possibility and she simply covers her mouth and the tears well in her eyes.                              
Next to these portrayals, I suppose In the Loop does look a bit irreverent, and it is – in some ways. Still, the entire point of this intelligent comedy is that the divide between actual combat and the promulgating politics is so different. The very document bemoaning the realities of war is after all amended simply to carry out a political agenda, it’s a bit frightening if we think too hard – but we’re too busy laughing to notice. Even those against war are not cuddly, teddy bear types. There’s nothing cuddly about Mimi Kennedy’s dirty mouthed (literal and figurative) Assistant Secretary of State. Three Blind Mice exists on the same level as In the Loop seeming to gloss over the traumatic incidents with humour, but it goes deeper. Of course, this deals with the Navy which is not the army – but it’s not far off. When Toby Schmitz makes his confession at the dinner table it definitively changes the tone of the film. His mother-in-law gasps, “That’s torture.” – I can’t help thinking in response, that’s the army. It’s not that the film isn’t funny after that; in fact the subsequent drunk scene is the funniest in the film. But the laughter has become less pure, more nervous.
                          
Two films I’m anticipating this year (The Way Back, The King’s Speech) both have war as secondary factors in it. King George struggles to be a better king in the latter and a group of convicts escape imprisonment during apparent guerrilla warfare in the former. If it’s good for nothing else, war is always a good starting point for film. Which was your favourite this year?

6 comments:

Jude said...

The best war film of the year to me was Inglourious Basterds. For all of its glory, The Hurt Locker cannot match Inglourious Basterds in script. It does bug me a little that The Hurt Locker got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. I like my screenplays a bit wittier and memorable. After all, a screenplay is spoken word and dialogue, and how many are there to remember from The Hurt Locker? That's why Inglourious Basterds takes the cake.

Castor said...

I haven't seen the Messenger yet but if you liked it, you might give Taking Chance a shot, it's a movie made for HBO that has absolutely no political statement of any kind to make and simply depict (realistically) the honors and customs of escorting the body of a fallen Marine back to his hometown.

I don't consider Inglourious Basterds a war movie at all. It's really a spaghetti western with people disguised in WWII uniforms. I do agree that Diane Kruger was absolutely outstanding in the movie which is my favorite of 2009.

Mike Lippert said...

Just wanted to note that The King's Speech was one of the scripts that flooded through my e mail account to read at the tail end of 2009 and it is a good script but I'm not sure it's going to be the movie everyone is expecting it to be, especially if they are expecting it to be like The Queen. That's all I'll say. Good post.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jude interesting read on the hurt locker. i mean words are the mainstay of a good script, but scenarios too thl did trump basterds even though it had wittier lines. but then i didn't really like the latter...

castor yikes, another basterds lover. glad to see appreciation of kruger though. she really lit up the screen.

mike heavens no. i sincerely was not expecting (or hoping) for it to be like the queen. i anticipate more of a character study with a slight current affairs subplot.

James D. said...

While Inglourious Basterds would technically be a war film, I have a hard time thinking of it as such. It is so much more about the characters. Really, it becomes easy to forget that World War II is going on around them.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

james i suppose that's one of the good things about it: it doesn't get bogged down by the war. but i really couldn't forget the war with Lanza looming over.