#5 Jarhead (2005): At number five is the film based on the award-winning, best-selling book of 2003 Jarhead by Anthony Swofford, a soldier who served in the gulf war that expresses his feelings and tells of his experiences. The adaptation is accurate as it purely focuses on the experience of one individual serving, in the film this individual is Tony Swofford played by Jake Gyllenhaal. It isn’t action packed, or heroic but realistic and cruel showing the real doings of soldiers in the war, the harshness and the impact.
Jarhead follows the story of Swofford who after training becomes a sniper and gets sent to the Gulf War, however he doesn’t even shoot his rifle. It shows them exhausted, lonely and bored as they don’t get given an opportunity to use their training. In some respect they are their own prisoners as they stand in boiling heat and oil 24 hours a day waiting and waiting.
This is a realistic film it doesn’t glorify war and that’s I like about it, at one point Swofford explains why he served and signed up, “I’m 20 years old and I was dumb enough to sign a contract”. The other characters in this film are not as important, Swofford befriends the scout sniper Troy (Peter Sarsgaard). The other relevant character being their Staff Sergent Sykes, (Jamie Foxx) who is the polar opposite of his unit of scout snipers, he loves his job and lives for it.
Jarhead was directed by Sam Mendes and he manages to capture the direct experiences of one person in one period time unlike most films, making it somewhat unique. Jarhead deserves my #5 on this list as its hard, real and shows the change in the individual life, not glorifying war and not making action heroes.
#4 Saving Private Ryan (1998): At number four is the incredible Saving Private Ryan, rated as the 37th best film of all time it’s not only a prestigious Great War film but an all time great in general. Graphic and gruesome as they get, and action packed but at the same time presents a real life problem, the problem of the safety of those giving orders and those carrying them out.
A group of soldiers led by Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) have been sent of a propaganda mission to boost morale and create good press. The mission is to find Pvt. Ryan and bring him home, what they don’t know is the danger they have been thrown into and as one of the soldiers mumbles “This Ryan better be worth it”. This film has one of the most remembered opening sequences of all time, thrown straight into gunfire men debark their ship on Omaha beach, fast paced and gruesome the sequence shows blood splattering, limbs flying and the what was once blue sea turn a violent red.
The group have to decide if they want to follow orders or do what they were trained to do after saving Pvt. Ryan (Matt Damon). The film for some will just be an entertaining action packed war film just like any other but for those who see it in the real light will realise this film shows how soldiers are risked for a publicity stunt, addressing some real issues. The thing that impresses me the most about Saving Private Ryan is the ability to create that meaning but at the same time a Great War film with thrilling scenes. The characters are also well written and the acting is outstanding, the crew is on par too with Stephen Spielberg directing and Jansuz Kaminski as cinematographer. Saving Private Ryan much deserving its place on this list, after all it did win 5 Oscars.
#3 Platoon (1986): An anti-war film that’s written and directed by a Vietnam vet, Oliver Stone. Not a film of heroics, action, fantasy or fun but a film based on memories and experiences. The story follows a character based on Stone, played by Charlie Sheen, he a young soldier who volunteers for the war but upon arrival he gets told he doesn’t belong there and he’s an outcast. A film that shows the conflict within a platoon as well as the conflict with the enemy you came to fight.
The directing of this film is amazing, there’s no clear plot either making it unexpected just how Stone would have felt. There’s no clear shot of enemies and everything is rushed and disoriented. It’s a Vietnam film, the most popular topic for Americans in the last half century. It shows the impact on the soldiers, how they lost their heads as well as their lives, how they would open up and kill anyone to better them. It’s not a heroic film but a film of survival. It’s also gruesome, where most films would show action scenes to glorify war this is a film that reverses that, showing the harsh reality.
Stone eventually becomes a great soldier in the film, however not a hero and not an inspiration. Platoon doesn’t make war look fun cause war isn’t fun. It’s for me an amazing film and no surprise it’s on this list at #3, it made a huge impact on me and the world as it won 4 Oscars. It’s an exhilarating war film made even more amazing by the history and context.
#2 Full Metal Jacket (1987): Not only is this one of my favourite war films its one of my favourite films of all time. Full Metal Jacket is a film of two halves but one strong message. The first half set in the training camp where they are under the rath of the harsh mouthed Drill Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) we follow the relationship between Private Pyle and Joker (Vincent D’Onofrio, Matthew Modine). It shows how they get moulded into weapons and instruments of destruction, how their fates are decided by their actions or inaction.
The second half of the film dives into Vietnam, focusing on the test of Jokers psychical and mental strength in the face of death, facing his true test if he’s a killer. The film itself is brilliant, although Full Metal Jacket seems like an uncompleted film it represents one of Americas uncompleted wars. The first half sets up us with the unbearable terror and humiliation something many of us can relate to however the second half is completely new to most of us. It shows the harsh reality and the effect on the mind in some ways Full Metal Jacket is an anti-war film as much as Platoon.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick there’s no wonder its a prestigious film and its on my list. It’s camera work drives you straight into action making it believable, and Stanley Kubrick helped a mainstream movie take a bold step. It’s undoubtedly one of the most remembered war films, and is responsible for one of the most famous quotes “this is my rifle, there are many like it but this one is mine”. That quote in a way sums up this film as it focuses on how a war isn’t a nations war but an individuals.
#1 Apocalypse Now (1979): A film by Francis Ford Coppola who was the man behind the Godfathers. He was probably the only man at the time with the ability or guts to make a film like Apocalypse Now. A film surrounding the Vietnam War focuses on the character of Captain Willard who’s sent on a mission to assassinate a colonel who has lost his sanity and is viewed as god by the local tribe.
The film is open to interpretation and has no conclusions, that disappoints and upsets those who like their films obvious and straight forward. Some argue this isn’t a war film but a film of man, surrounding the war in Nam it’s very much a war film with a message that shows just how crazy things got. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) experiences all the things that sent Colonel Krutz (Marlon Brando) insane, graphic, gruesome and somewhat horrific it shows an inside to Vietnam.
The films number one for a few reasons, first of all the context and history surrounding the film shows just how bold Apocalypse Now is. Technically the film is faultless, from the setting, sound, editing and cinematography, finally it’s a film that leaves you with questions that you have to answer yourself, conclusions you have to make up. It won 2 Oscars and besides that is voted as one of the best films of all time. A truly one of film that concludes my top 5 and gets its deserved top spot.