Films on Soldiers

SOLDIERS IN AFGHANISTAN WAR

The Tillman Story

Documentary 2010 R 95 minutes. Pat Tillman’s family comes forward to tell the real story about what happened on April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan when the pro football player-turned-U.S. soldier was killed by friendly fire and not the Taliban, as first reported. Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary pieces together the Tillmans’ search for the truth, how they exposed a military cover-up that led to top-ranking officers and called to the carpet the likes of Donald Rumsfeld.See Full Review

Restrepo

Documentary 2010 R 1hr 33m. Author Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington spent a year embedded with the Second Platoon in Afghanistan (at outpost called Restrepo after the name of killed comrade), chronicling the hard work, fear and brotherhood that comes with repelling a deadly enemy in this Oscar-nominated documentary. (Also see Korengal follow-up film described below.) See Full Review

Korengal

Documentary 2014 R 1hr24m.  This follow-up to the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” delves into the experience of war and how it impacts those on the front lines.  Korengal is the spiritual sequel to Restrepo. While Restrepo focused on documenting the reality of war (in Afghanistan Korengal valley) in the heat of combat, Korengal takes a step back to explore the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the individual soldiers involved. It is put together very well and does a great job exploring some of the more psychological aspects of combat and how it impacts each person differently.  The soldiers who were interviewed honestly share their hopes, frustrations in dealing with foreign people who could smile at you one day then shoot at you the next, anxieties about returning home and finding jobs, and the camaraderie that sometimes even trumps familial bonds. Through it all, these soldiers bravely carry out their duties, knowing the day could be their last.

Where Soldiers Come From

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr31m. This documentary tells the story of five friends from a small town who grew up together, join the military together, and then get shipped off to war together. These kids all signed up for mostly the same reasons many small town youths enter the National Guard — money, college, and to get out of a small town. But this tight-knit group of friends who join the reserves to get money for college are then deployed to the extreme opposite—active duty in the harsh desert of Afghanistan. The film shows the realities and daily struggles of their rural home lives as well as the time spent maturing over nine months in a foreign and stressful place. See Full Review

Wikisecrets

Documentary Frontline 2011 NR. Intelligence analyst Bradley Manning set off a firestorm of controversy when he released millions of classified documents to the WikiLeaks Web site in 2010. “Frontline” investigates this enigmatic figure’s motives and the fallout of his actions. It’s the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history-the leaking of more than half-a-million classified documents on the Wikileaks website in the spring of 2010. Behind it all, stand two very different men: Julian Assange, the Internet activist and hacker who published the documents, and an Army intelligence analyst named Bradley E. Manning, who’s currently charged with handing them over. Private Manning allegedly leaked the secret cables — along with a controversial video — in the hope of inciting “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.” Assange’s stated mission has been to force the U.S. and other governments into maximum transparency through his whistle-blowing website. Through in-depth interviews with Manning’s father, Assange, and others close to the case, veteran Frontline correspondent Martin Smith tells the full story behind the leaks. He also reports on the U.S. government’s struggle to protect national security information in a post 9/11 world.

Korengal

Documentary 2014 R 1hr24m.  This follow-up to the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” delves into the experience of war and how it impacts those on the front lines.  Korengal is the spiritual sequel to Restrepo. While Restrepo focused on documenting the reality of war (in Afghanistan) in the heat of combat, Korengal takes a step back to explore the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the individual soldiers involved. It is put together very well and does a great job exploring some of the more psychological aspects of combat and how it impacts each person differently.  The soldiers who were interviewed honestly share their hopes, frustrations in dealing with foreign people who could smile at you one day then shoot at you the next, anxieties about returning home and finding jobs, and the camaraderie that sometimes even trump familial bonds. Through it all, these soldiers bravely carry out their duties, knowing the day could be their last.

9th Company
(9 Rota)

Drama 2005 R 2hr 20m. An eclectic group of Soviet soldiers ships off to fight in Afghanistan, where they must endure hellish conditions and dangerous mujahedeen forces.

SOLDIERS IN IRAQ WAR

Body of War

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 27m. Tomas Young left for Iraq a gung-ho soldier. He returned home paralyzed, struggling to deal with his physical limitations and his changing feelings about the war. This eye-opening documentary looks at the raging debate over the war in Iraq through the eyes of this courageous young hero who signed up for the military two days after Sept. 11, only to be sent to Iraq where a bullet shattered his life physically and emotionally.

The Wounded Platoon

Documentary Frontline 2010 NR 1hr 25m. This “Frontline” episode investigates the incredible violence, depression and post-traumatic stress exhibited by a Colorado Springs-based platoon of Iraq War veterans whose members have committed murder, assaulted loved ones and attempted suicide. Through interviews, interrogation tapes and archival materials, the program examines the effects that multiple tours of duty have on soldiers and the limitations of the Army’s mental health services. Since the Iraq War began, soldier arrests in the city of Colorado Springs have tripled. At least thirty-six servicemen based at the nearby Army post of Fort Carson have committed suicide. And fourteen Fort Carson soldiers have been charged or convicted in at least eleven killings. Many of the most violent crimes involved men who had served in the same battalion in Iraq. Three of them came from a single platoon of infantrymen. Frontline tells the dark tale of the men of 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st battalion of the 506th infantry; and how the war followed them home. It is a story of heroism, grief, vicious combat, depression, drugs, alcohol and brutal murder; an investigation into the Army’s mental health services; and a powerful portrait of what multiple tours and post-traumatic stress are doing to a generation of young American soldiers.

The Soldier’s Heart

Documentary Frontline 2005. As the War in Iraq continues the first measures of its psychological toll are coming in. A medical study estimates that more than one in seven returning veterans are expected to suffer from major depression anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For those who have survived the fighting the battle is not over. For some the return home can be as painful as war itself. Frontline tells the stories of soldiers who have come home haunted by their experiences and asks whether the government is doing enough to help.

A Second Knock at the Door

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 31m. This award-winning documentary offers a rare glimpse into the lives of military families dealing with the loss of loved ones to friendly fire.

Poster Girl

Documentary 2010 NR 37m. This documentary short follows Robynn Murray, who literally became the poster girl for women in combat, as she battles post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

Documentary 2007 NR 100 minutes. Blending interviews with the perpetrators, witnesses and victims involved in the notorious Abu Ghraib scandal of 2003, director Rory Kennedy (daughter of slain U.S. politician Robert F. Kennedy) offers an inside look at what really went on inside the walls of the infamous Iraqi prison. This Emmy winner for Best Nonfiction Special seeks to tell the stories behind the now-iconic photos depicting hooded prisoners, U.S. soldiers and humiliating acts.

Inside Special Forces

Documentary National Geographic 2003 TV-PG 56m. National Geographic follows the brave men and women of the U.S. Army Special Forces as they infiltrate Afghanistan and Iraq on top-secret missions.

Inside Iraq: The Untold Story

Documentary 2004 NR 84 mins.  In 2003, ordinary American citizen Mike Shiley created his own press pass and cashed in airline miles to fly to Iraq. Unofficially there to document the nascent war for a Portland TV station, Shiley took his camera to the front lines, where he showed a side of the conflict the media and the military ignored. If you’ve only seen the news, you’ve never seen the Iraq War as it’s presented in this award-winning documentary.

SOLDIERS IN VIETNAM WAR

The Deer Hunter

Drama 1978 R 183 minutes. In this Oscar-winning epic from director Michael Cimino, a group of working-class friends decides to enlist in the Army during the Vietnam War and finds it to be hellish chaos — not the noble venture they imagined. Before they left, Steven (John Savage) married his pregnant girlfriend — and Michael (Robert De Niro) and Nick (Christopher Walken) were in love with the same woman (Meryl Streep). But all three are different men upon their return.

Born on the Fourth of July

Docudrama 1989 R 145 minutes. Tom Cruise stars in an Oscar-nominated turn as U.S. Marine Ron Kovic, who returns home from the Vietnam War paralyzed from the chest down. After months of hellish rehabilitation, he finds renewed purpose protesting the war he once proudly fought. The film — based on Kovic’s autobiography of the same name — earned Oliver Stone an Academy Award for Best Director, and also stars Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Berenger and Frank Whaley. A young, gung­ho patriot’s attitudes toward his country’s involvement in Vietnam undergo a dramatic transformation when he returns home from the war a para­plegic. The film’s value lies in its teatment of the growing antiwar senti­ment in the United States, a phenomenon which shaped the outcome of that war and U.S. foreign policy post-Vietnam.

Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam

Documentary HBO 1987 PG-13 84 minutes. Filmmaker Bill Couturie’s poignant HBO documentary strikingly captures the gamut of emotion experienced by Vietnam veterans, as a host of celebrated actors — including Robert De Niro and Sean Penn — recite correspondence from American soldiers. Set to a 1960s soundtrack and accompanied by authentic news footage, still photos and home movies, these readings create an honest snapshot of a tumultuous time.

Inside the Vietnam War

Documentary 2008 NR 150 minutes. See the Vietnam War through the eyes of those who lived through it in this compelling documentary from National Geographic. Archival film, audio recordings and personal photographs accompany veterans’ recollections of their own experiences. The unflinching footage follows soldiers to the Battle of Ia Drang, the Battle of Dak To, the crucial stronghold of the Iron Triangle and other important conflicts in the 20th century’s most controversial war.

Sir! No Sir!

Documentary 2005 NR 84 minutes. Filmmaker and activist David Zeiger’s documentary chronicles the largely forgotten antiwar activities of American GIs and other members of the military during the Vietnam era — actions that put them in greater peril than civilian protesters. Powerful and surprising, the film weaves together the stories of veterans who participated in the opposition movement, an effort that, by the early 1970s, found widespread support from civilians and troops alike. See Full Review

Winter Soldier

Documentary 1972 NR 96 minutes.  Banned by network television when released, this daring 1972 documentary examines reports of atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. Using the 1971 Detroit Winter Soldier Investigation as its basis, the film features interviews with Vietnam veterans who saw or participated in the crimes paired with footage of the war. The film serves as a permanent reminder of the tragic effects of war and the human capacity for cruelty. See Full Review

Full Metal Jacket

Drama 1987 R 117 minutes. Marine recruits endure the grueling ordeal of basic training and later face the unrelenting Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet Offensive in this grim Stanley Kubrick drama based on a novel by Gustav Hasford. What makes the movie great is its portayal of the moral ambiguity of that war, the soldiers’ awareness of this issue, and their commitment to fight on, not for country or cause, but for one another, as well as an undefined inertia. It’s about the loss of innocence and what we as humans put each other through in order to wage war.

Platoon

Docudrama 1986 R 120 minutes. Helmed by Oliver Stone, this searing autobiographical drama chronicles the Vietnam experiences of naïve volunteer soldier Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), whose view of the conflict starts to change after witnessing murder and rape at the hands of his compatriots. Platoon won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, with Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe earning supporting actor nods as rival topkicks who offer Sheen contrasting role models. Oliver Stones masterpiece is a film you endure not enjoy. It will effect you in many ways and hopefully change your mind about warfare and the soldiers who fight it. Several veterans of that war have said that this movie is the most accurate depiction of the war that they have ever seen on film.

Casualties of War

Drama 1989 120 min. The rape and murder of an innocent girl by an American patrol in Vietnam ultimately results in courts-martial of the soldiers. En route to that denouement we are made aware of how fine the line is between man and savage in the moral quagmire of modern warfare. Dir. Brian DePalma. With Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox. English. Color.

Brothers in Arms

Documentary 2003 NR 1hr7m. This powerful film relates the experiences of six soldiers who met on a swift boat in 1969, during some the Vietnam War’s worst fighting. However, bad title, bad description. Should be called “The John Kerry Movie.” Clearly a documentary designed to help launch the presidential campaign of John Kerry, a “Set the record straight,” approach to the story. Yes, this is a promotional piece for John Kerry. Yes, there some propaganda to this documentary, but the fact that it’s PR does not make it untrue. And I appreciated hearing the stories of Kerry’s shipmates; lending their perspective to his service and contribution, even his selfless valorous acts that earned him the Silver Star. While there was some input from his crew, this was a movie that wouldn’t have been made if Kerry hadn’t been political. It is true he later became an activist against the Vietnam War, and that is covered in this documentary, in fact, that was the purpose of the film. In the heat of the moment, and doing what others were doing to capture the attention of the media and the Nixon administration–he did throw his medals onto the steps of the capital building. Not only was this a “vote for John Kerry” movie, it literally has footage from his presidential race. The guys who served with Kerry clearly respect and like him. And this is a very compelling telling of their stories (not just John Kerry’s). You basically get to hear the stories of several men who served there together and some of what happened to them when they returned. These are first-hand accounts of what actually went on in one small part of the war. It is worth watching if you are interested in military history of that time period. The film mostly consists of five talking heads against a plain background, an extremely spare soundtrack, and just enough war footage to keep viewers visually engaged. But if you’re a patient listener, it really does pay off, and helps you appreciate the sacrifices that all soldiers make for our country.

We Were Soldiers

Docudrama 2002 R 2hr18m. This Vietnam War epic tells the story of the Battle of Ia Drang, which pitted 450 U.S. soldiers against thousands of well-armed Vietnamese troops.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

Documentary 1998 NR 74 minutes. Werner Herzog directs this fascinating, emotional documentary about the life of Dieter Dengler, a naval pilot in the Vietnam War who — during one of his first missions — was shot down over Laos and taken captive. Beginning with his hardscrabble youth in postwar Germany, the film explores Dengler’s incredible tale of survival, from the torture he endured at the hands of the Vietcong to the daring escape he mounted with his fellow prisoners. See also the related Docudrama “Rescue Dawn”.

SOLDIERS IN WORLD WAR 2

Unbroken

Docudrama 2014 PG-13. This inspiring tale of survival is based on the real-life experiences of Louis Zamperini, an American pilot held by the Japanese during World War II. After his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean, Zamperini spends 47 days adrift before his capture.

Band of Brothers

Docudrama 2001 NR 6 discs. Based on Stephen Ambrose’s best-seller, this Emmy-nominated miniseries profiles the men of Easy Company, the airborne infantry regiment that parachuted into France on D-Day, fought the Battle of the Bulge and captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Drawn from journals and letters — and punctuated with interviews with veterans — the drama underscores the extraordinary fear and unflagging bravery that made these soldiers heroes.

Saving Private Ryan

Drama 1998 R 169 minutes. As U.S. troops storm the beaches of Normandy, three brothers lie dead on the battlefield, with a fourth trapped behind enemy lines. Ranger Capt. John Miller and seven of his men are ordered to penetrate German-held territory and bring the man home.

Audie Murphy: Great American Hero

Documentary 1996 NR 50 minutes. This installment of A&E;’s popular “Biography” series profiles Congressional Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, a brave soldier who held off 250 Germans and six tanks during combat in World War II and parlayed his fame into a career as an actor and writer. Using newsreel footage and clips from his postwar films — including Murphy’s portrayal of himself in the film version of his autobiography — this portrait reveals a true American hero.

The Story of G.I. Joe

Docudrama 1945 NR.  Director William A. Wellman’s gritty drama centers on Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith) as he follows an American infantry platoon from North Africa to Italy to report the soldiers’ stories from the front lines during World War II. In an Oscar-nominated supporting performance, Robert Mitchum plays the unit’s battle-weary but unflinching commanding officer.  This is a good, gritty classic WW II story that presents the dirt, sweat, and agony that was the lives of the Infantry. Like the movie says, the fly boys got to go home to a meal and a shave after a raid, and the Navy has the ships, but the Infantry sleeps and lives in the mud — and is the most powerful and important part of the US fighting machine. Meredith is good as war reporter Ernie Pyle as he shares in the stories and lives of a battalion he has grown fond of and visits as often as he can in the field. Not your typical John Wayne or Audie Murphy type WW II movie, this takes a serious look at the emotional trauma of war on soldiers through the observations of Ernie Pyle. The personalities of the men are revealed through their hardships and small joys and personal victories. This is a powerful flick that draws you into really caring what happens to these characters — and dreading the daily roll-call of the dead as much as they do. To really appreciate this movie, I highly recommend you view the special features section of the DVD first to see an actual interview between Ernie Pyle and a GI.  Also read some of Ernie’s published editorials. This way you will have a better understanding of who Ernie Pyle was and his perspective on the war.  Ernie Pyle was one of the great war correspondents of World War II, and he was,more than likely, the pioneer of what has now become known as the “embedded journalist”.  Robert Mitchum in one of his first major film roles portrays one of the GIs that Pyle so movingly wrote about to those on the home front, via his news articles. Burgess Meredith is superb as the courageous Pulitzer Prize Winning Pyle who lived and worked on the front lines with the soldiers.  Director Wellman used a lot of combat veterans. After the film was done shooting, the vast majority returned to the front lines, but then most of them never returned.  Even though this was Wellman’s favorite film, it is said he never could watch it. There are so many great things to say about this film that it’s impossible to list them all.  A good film worth seeing.  Excellent camera work and direction. This is a wonderful, compelling film with a realistic story that doesn’t age.  After watching this movie, for the umpteenth time, I still consider it one of the better war movies I’ve seen from any era.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Docudrama 1957 PG 167 minutes. Director David Lean’s sweeping epic — best known for a whistling work theme that became legendary — is set in a World War II Japanese prison camp, where British prisoners are forced to build a railway bridge as a morale-building.

Stalingrad  (2003  Documentary)

Documentary 2003 NR 165 minutes.  The long and bloody battle that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany is the subject of this Emmy-nominated World War II documentary. Filmmakers Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick and Jorg Mullner make extensive use of soldier-shot footage to show the conflict from both Russian and German perspectives, and employ eyewitness accounts, archive film and 3-D animation to reconstruct the city and plot the course of its destruction.

Stalingrad  (1993  Docudrama)

Docudrama 1993 NR.  During one of World War II’s most brutal campaigns, German soldiers see a summer mission turn hellish when the ferocious Russian winter sets in. This raw dramatization provides an unvarnished look at one of the Allies’ biggest triumphs.

Das Boot
(The Boat)

Drama 1981 R 209 minutes. Nominated for six Oscars, this edge-of-your-seat dramatic triumph follows the trials of a German U-boat crew during World War II. Upon its restored re-release in 1997, an hour was added to the original film, which further augmented its impact. It also played as a six-hour German miniseries. In all its forms, the realistic and gripping battle scenes and palpable human struggle make Das Boot a critical hit.

Ballad of a Soldier

1959 NR 88 minutes. During World War II, 19-year-old Russian soldier Alyosha wins a 10-day leave and tries to make it home. Along the way, he meets several civilians, and his cheery presence is like a wartime tonic for them, uplifting their lives.

SOLDIERS IN WORLD WAR 1

Sergeant York

Docudrama 1941 NR 134 minutes. In a career-defining performance that earned him his first Academy Award, Gary Cooper stars as Alvin York, a poor Appalachian pacifist drafted into World War I. Placed in an impossible position, York single-handedly captures an entire enemy platoon and becomes a national hero. This World War II-era Hollywood classic based on the real-life war hero received 11 Academy Award nominations, including one for director Howard Hawks.

Gallipoli

Drama 1981 PG 111 minutes. Australian Director Peter Weir takes on one of his country’s most tragic moments in history: the World War I confrontation with the German allied Turks. As the film leads up to the battle in act three, we get to know the young men destined to be casualties of war. A young Mel Gibson (on the heels of his successful turn in Mad Max) plays one of the innocent doomed. But the film also celebrates the valor of the men killed at Gallipoli and decries the terrible waste of these young lives.This poignant war drama swept the Australian Film Institute Awards with eight wins.

Paths of Glory

Remake 1957 NR 87 minutes. Writer-director Stanley Kubrick’s powerful anti-war statement stars Kirk Douglas as Col. Dax, the commander of a weary regiment of French army soldiers stationed along the western front during World War I. When French generals order the regiment to carry out what amounts to a suicide mission against heavy German fire, some of the men refuse. But when the army tries three of the soldiers on charges of cowardice, Dax acts as their defense attorney.

All Quiet on the Western Front (Remake)

Drama 1979 NR 131 minutes. This remake of one of the great war stories of all time stars Richard Thomas as a gung-ho German student recruited into the army during World War I. But over time he begins to view the war as a tragedy for the fighting men on both sides.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Drama 1930 NR 130 minutes. Teenage German soldiers pass from idealism to despair in this poignant, Oscar-winning depiction of survival on the front lines, adapted from an anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque and banned in a number of countries during wartime. Awarded Best Picture in 1930, the film has lost little of its original impact, with brutal imagery and a peaceful message that also earned director Lewis Milestone an Academy Award for Best Director.

SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL WAR

The Red Badge of Courage

Drama 1951 NR. John Huston’s classic film adaptation of the 1895 Stephen Crane novel is set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. The story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming (Audie Murphy), who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound, a “red badge of courage,” to counteract his cowardice. The film ponders the feelings of anxiety and finally outright fear in a boy preparing for battle. Henry begins losing his illusions of heroism during his first skirmish, and after witnessing his friend’s death and receiving an accidental wound from a retreating soldier, he comes to terms with the realities of warfare. When his regiment once again faces the enemy, Henry acts as standard-bearer. Although Crane was born after the war, and had not at the time experienced battle first-hand, the novel is known for its realism. He began writing this novel in 1893, using various contemporary and written accounts (such as those published previously by Century Magazine) as inspiration.

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