War. What is it good for? Inspiring rousing American film classics, that’s what. America has a long and complicated history with war, but at the end of the day there are two big takeaways:
1) We’re damn good at it.
2) Everyone else has generally learned not to fuck with us.
It’s tough to show American wars in a way that entertains the audience and glorifies our guys while also taking a hard look at war itself, but the best war movies do that. They show the brotherhood, the camaraderie, and the sacrifice while also making you feel proud to be an American. The greatest American war movies will be a subjective thing, but I think these generally cover some of our truly important ones.
When it comes to World War II, one of the names that should come to mind is Patton. The man was a living legend on the battlefield and the movie about his life, though long enough to make The Lord of the Rings look like a short film, is a true American treasure. It’s the movie with the iconic “No poor bastard ever won a war dying for his country,” speech. Patton takes two of the greatest military minds of last century and squares them off against each other in North Africa, putting together the kind of film people like Michael Bay wish they could make, instead of Transformers 7: More Explosions .
This isn’t a war film that goes dark and gritty, like a few others here do. This is Clint Eastwood doing action-comedy before it was really a big thing in Hollywood. A crack team of commandos goes behind enemy lines while AWOL to steal a bunch of gold and treasure from a bank in Nazi-occupied territory, with Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland along for the ride as the wise-cracking supply sergeant and quirky tank commander. It’s a film that knows what it is, and enjoys it, but still manages to be a great war film. Think Tropic Thunder , but much more of a classic film, and with less shock humor. It walks a weird line between great WWII film and 70’s buddy comedy, but still manages to make it work like a charm.
Saving Private Ryan
I have probably seen this movie about 15 times now, and every time I end up crying at some point. This is THE modern American war film. It’s the story of men putting their lives on the line to make sure the last son of a family makes it home from the war alive. Tom Hanks and Matt Damon absolutely nailed their performances. They truly captured both the honor and the horror of war. It’s a piece that is still strong in it’s darkest moments, never failing to leave a glimmer of hope of overcoming the insane odds facing the team hunting for Private Ryan. I am convinced this is a movie every man in America should see at some point. It’s a wonderful reminder of what we’ve given for what we have.
The Thin Red Line
I assume not as many people have seen this one, so I won’t spoil too much of it. The Thin Red Line is about the exploits of a group of soldiers in C company stationed in the Guadalcanal region of the South Pacific. It was originally going to be one of the longest war films in history, the original cut running a crushing five full hours and containing big names like Mickey Rourke and Martin Sheen. The film is great because it captures the reality of the Pacific theater with a cast of stars that I’m shocked they were able to assemble. Everyone from Sean Penn to George Clooney is in this one. It’s like they took every respected actor who was ever in a war film and said, “We’re getting the band back together.” Seriously, see this one if you haven’t. It’s similar in quality to Saving Private Ryan .
To Hell and Back
While we’re talking about high quality films glorifying heroes, you can’t forget this one. You might have heard of a badass soldier in WWII that single-handedly took down a German attack on his injured company by jumping into an on-fire tank and gunning Germans down with the .50 cal. If that doesn’t cement this as “incredibly awesome” in your mind, also consider that he was rejected from several branches for being too small and looking like he was still in high school. He later got a Medal of Honor, a book deal, this movie, and presumably all the 40’s poon from sea to shining sea.
These are just the first half of the list, and all were WWII films. We had a pretty solid penchant for Nazi killing for quite some time after the war, as evidenced by these films. In part two I’ll talk films in Vietnam and even on our own soil. Got suggestions? Leave them in the comments.