March 17, 2010
The success of the Academy Award-winning "The Hurt Locker," a
gripping drama about bomb disposal in Iraq, doubtless will spawn a
spate of Hollywood war films.
You can bet on some of them being fairly obvious rip-offs.
To date, there have been very few films about America's current
conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but keep in mind that most Vietnam
War films came well after the end of that other very long war.
Under the assumption that all wars are similar at some level, and
that Hollywood tends to re-use established approaches, the following
list of notable films inspired by Vietnam may be a useful guide.
"Go Tell The Spartans" Realistic, very low-budget portrayal of
early U.S. Vietnam involvement, especially insightful regarding Viet
"84 Charlie MoPic'' Realistic hand-held documentary camera
portrayal of fear and frustration, terror and death for an American
patrol. Creator Patrick Duncan is a Vietnam vet, not a Hollywood pro;
the film is rough and very real.
"Apocalypse Now'' Effective allegory drawn from Joseph Conrad's
novel "The Heart of Darkness." Exaggerated but historically grounded
portrayal, inspired by the Phoenix Program to eliminate Vietcong
officials; strategic role of Cambodia (and Laos) is rightly emphasized.
"Breaker Morant" Brilliant Vietnam allegory, drawn from the Boer
War, historically accurate, early evidence of the very strong
development of modern cinema of Australia, a U.S. ally in Vietnam.
"We Were Soldiers'' Realistic Vietnam combat, by Hollywood
standards, portraying Ia Drang Valley battle of November 1965 and
context. Mel Gibson's usual artistic flair and acting genius is a
"Full Metal Jacket'' Realistic U.S. home front portrayal of Marine
Corps training followed by overdone, judgmental portrayal of Hue city
combat in the 1968 Tet Offensive.
"The Deer Hunter'' Realistic U.S. home front portrayal of who went
to war; Vietnam sequences are effective if viewed as allegorical but
are very bizarre.
"Platoon'' Technically realistic, simplistic morality-play plot;
war as a cartoon.
"Hamburger Hill'' World War II Pacific-style combat misportrayed as
"The Thin Red Line'' Vietnam-inspired anti-war angst misrepresents
James Jones' epic novel of Guadalcanal death struggle in World War II.
"The Green Berets'' John Wayne's pro-Vietnam War film is a great
gift to the anti-war movement. The Duke gets one star for earnest
effort. Classic Hollywood blunder moment: the sun setting in the East.
"Casualties of War'' Very ugly Hollywood anti-war/make-a-buck
effort is a truly gross exploitation.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College.
E-mail him at acyr(at)carthage.edu.