“Hacksaw Ridge” is credited with single-handedly addressing the topic of conscientious objection – pathbreaking and bold for a war movie. Based on real events, the film tells the story of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss during WWII. Doss was the first conscientious objector to win a Medal of Honor without firing a weapon – a landmark in U.S. military history.
“Hacksaw Ridge” and its unique perspective bring much-needed nuance to the narrative of war and the landscape of Hollywood war movies. Andrew Garfield shines as Doss, his performance earning him a nomination for Best Actor and several others. The film is perfect for anyone looking to uncover history beyond mainstream accounts.
The film follows a team of Israeli soldiers that tries to survive behind enemy lines in their lone tank during the 1982 Lebanon conflict. What makes the film unique is how most events take place entirely within the tank. Within this confined space, the horrors of battle take on horrifying extremes. Viewers sense the uncertainty and pressure.
Every decision or disagreement could be the soldiers’ undoing, threatening to implode everyone. The film’s commitment to realism is commendable — from tank operating protocols to the crushing claustrophobia that soldiers experience when inside. What’s more, the film has some of the most brilliantly written and nuanced characters who come alive on screen.
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Author James Jones created a stir when his 1951 novel “From Here to Eternity” was published. Readers were equal parts impressed and scandalized by his bold, largely unflattering portrayal of military life. Filmmaker Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation, although much more toned down, received a similar reception. Where other war movies veered towards platitudes for the heroics of the American military, this film addressed the many excesses, abuses, and infidelities rampant before WWII.
Montgomery Clift plays a man who is reluctant to join the camp’s boxing team and suffers the consequences. Burt Lancaster is a jaded desk sergeant who has an affair with his commanding officer’s wife (Deborah Kerr). Other members of the star-studded cast include Ernest Borgnine, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Reed. Despite mixed receptions, the film and cast won a string of Oscars, suggesting that audiences loved seeing soldiers depicted as flawed human beings.
The Human Condition (1959)
What can one say about “The Human Condition,” only one of the greatest Japanese war films ever made? Directed by the legendary Masaki Kobayashi the film is essentially three movies in one and runs for a whopping 10 hours. And yes, they are best viewed together for maximum effect! “The Human Condition” is a powerful view of war and humanity, with all its strengths and flaws.
Its story is centered largely around a good man named Kaji. Kaji moves to Manchuria with the aim of running a POW camp. He genuinely wants to create better labor conditions for Chinese prisoners but he is soon dragged into enlisting for the Japanese Imperial Army, becoming a POW himself in a Soviet camp. The film is a heartbreaking and solemn meditation on what war does to humanity.
Despite his failing health and financing troubles, Akira Kurosawa put everything into "Ran." The results? An epic film that became the most compelling and expensive Japanese film made during the time. Kurosawa weaves elements of William Shakespeare’s "King Lear" into a story based on Mori Motonari, a feudal lord who lived during the 16th century.
Tatsuya Nakadai portrays the role of Ichimonji Hidetora, a legendary but now aging daimyo who wants to split his kingdom among his three sons. His sons have other plans. Bloody conflict ensues, largely as retaliation against Hidetora’s oppressive rule. “Ran” is a tale of regret and introspection – how one man cast humanity and virtue for glory, which ultimately means nothing and literally burns to the ground.