“Sergeant York” is a biopic of Alvin York’s military service. Director Howard Hawk traces York’s final steps towards reckoning — from someone raising hell in the Tennessee forests into a soldier willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good. The journey isn’t easy. He struggles with his religious beliefs which he believes are at odds with fighting. And then, there is his anger – an all-consuming rage that threatens to take over.
The film is a moving account of a man’s deepest internal struggles and his transformation. But its depiction of the Army is far-fetched, almost delusional. You don’t go to the army to question life’s purpose or whether war is worth it. York miraculously finds this space in the army, which in the film, is an institution that cares for the happiness of its soldiers.
Come and See (1985)
“Come and See” isn’t just the most well-known Russian language film, it’s also one of the most visceral anti-war films in history. We meet a protagonist named Florya — a young boy drawn to the resistance movement against German forces during WWII. He joins the cause and enlists with a group of fighters when things go horribly wrong.
Florya finds himself at a crossroads, forced into a violent conflict that threatens to destroy his soul. If nightmares were films, “Come and See” is a strong contender. It doesn't contain the most violent scenes visually. What it achieves is an unflinching depiction of the psychological implications of war – harsh, devastating, and beyond repair.
“1917” is a stellar war film for several reasons. The filmmakers wanted the film to appear as if it was shot in one long take – nothing but challenging when you have an extensive cast and crew. For perspective, the film had a $100 million budget and 1000 people as extras! However, the single-take approach paid off since it conveyed a sense of urgency in the film.
The film’s story, after all, is a race against time. Two soldiers sneak into enemy territory to deliver a critical message that could save hundreds of lives. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins created a gripping narrative and a one-shot format that would inspire a whole new generation of filmmaking.
The Longest Day (1962)
“The Longest Day” is an adaptation of a successful 1959 book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan. The movie rights sold for a staggering $1.75 million in today's money – making it one of the highest figures for any adaptation. The film was an enormous undertaking, an international production depicting D-Day from multiple perspectives that needed five screenwriters and three directors!
As for the cast, the dizzying lineup included John Wayne, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, and Robert Ryan, among a dozen others! The film also featured 750 soldiers who had fought in WWII. The story is meticulous and unravels in a documentary style. With real-life stories and perspectives informing the narrative, “The Longest Day” is arguably one of the most authentic war films ever made.
Filmmaker Stuart Cooper’s “Overlord” tells the story of a character named Tom (played by Brian Stirner) from the time he enlists right through D-Day. Tom is a sensitive soldier who is bracing himself for the inevitable. He continually imagines death, specifically how he might die in the war.
The film’s use of narrative with documentary scenes gives it a unique feel. Tom’s story feels like fate because of it, like something already pre-determined and written. “Overlord” is a blend of historical footage and dream sequences. Although the focus is on Tom’s life, the film honors and grieves the loss of thousands of lives in the war.