This Friday marks Veterans Day, a time to honor those who have served in the various branches of the U.S. military since the holiday was founded after World War I.
For many, Veterans Day is an ode to the heroism displayed by these individuals in the face of battle, but the day is also viewed by servicemen as a chance to honor the camaraderie among soldiers and pay respects to fallen brethren.
While there are many films chronicling the events of World War II and Vietnam, such as “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and “Full Metal Jacket,” these films don’t necessarily honor the fundamentals of Veterans Day. Scene & Heard takes a look at a few films that look beyond the battlefield and straight to the patriotism of servicemen.
From the opening speech of director Franklin J. Schaffner’s “Patton,” we’re introduced to General George S. Patton, who was seemingly bred to serve in the U.S. military.
Actor George C. Scott portrayed the controversial and egotistic real life general with enough gusto and personality to engage you in his loyal patriotism, even when he’s coming off as completely abhorrent. Along with winning an Academy Award for Best Actor, Scott’s performance is often referenced as a paramount moment in film history, as well as an inspired moment for the military on film.
“Patton” garnered seven Oscars at the 1971 Academy Awards, which included an Oscar-winning script co-written by future “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola. To this day, “Patton” still stands as a film that noted film critics such as James Berardinelli refer to as “one of Hollywood’s most compelling biographical war pictures.”
“The Thin Red Line” (1998)
Poetic and gripping are perhaps the best terms to use when describing any film by reclusive director Terrence Malick, but this is especially true of the 1998 film “The Thin Red Line,” which chronicles the battle of Guadalcanal during World War II.
Malick’s film focuses more on the camaraderie and friendships formed between the soldiers, played by the likes of Sean Penn, John Cusack and Woody Harrelson, just to name a few of the film’s star-studded cast. Malick approaches the battle scenes with an ethereal quality that avoids stepping into the gritty, grotesquely blood strewn battles depicted in less masterfully directed war films such as John Woo’s “Windtalkers,” while still managing to find a sense of urgency and danger.
The film could have been nominated for a Best Ensemble award, since it also helped usher in the film careers of actors George Clooney and Jared Leto, yet was still lauded by critics and Academy voters alike. While it would eventually be overshadowed by another great World War II film that same year, it’s become increasingly well-regarded since its release, even receiving a commemorative release by the Criterion Collection in September 2010.
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
Honoring fallen servicemen is surely an emotional trial for any soldier, but if you’re honoring the ones who fell while saving your life, it must be even more devastating. Steven Spielberg’s unflinching drama “Saving Private Ryan” took an innovative approach to the war movie genre, and walked away a rousing success.
Told through the memories of Pvt. James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), as well as the eyes of the experienced Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks), “Saving Private Ryan” follows a group of soldiers who land upon the shores of Normandy on D-Day with a mission to find Ryan and send him back to U.S. following the deaths of his brothers in combat.
Though Ryan learns about his fallen brothers and lonely mother awaiting his return, he refuses to return home without fulfilling the remainder of his military duties,an act that is both honorable and naive. Ryan and Miller’s group are held up in a small French town, leading to the film’s climactic battle scene that showcases the compassion and bravery in which soldiers fight to protect their own.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)
There’s no rule that says a movie honoring the American troops has to be straight faced and Academy-Award nominated. Joe Johnston’s 2011 comic book adaptation, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” may be all flash on the surface, but there is more going on beneath the titular character’s mask and cowl than audiences may think.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a wimpy New Yorker whose dream of becoming one of America’s bravest soldiers in the face of Hitler’s Nazi Germany is crushed when he’s repeatedly rejected from serving in the military due to his poor health and stature. After his valiant attempts, a lead government scientist recognizes Rogers’ persistence, and he’s offered the chance to take part in a secret military project to create the ultimate soldier and lead him to become the iconic Captain America.
The film is certainly loud, action-packed entertainment, but it carries weighty themes. Rogers is used as a government propaganda tool to sell military bonds through a dazzling musical number, eventually causing him to become disillusioned with an organization he once viewed as incredibly illustrious. However, when Rogers feels he must answer the call to save his best friend, Bucky, from behind enemy lines, he shows that his former patriotism and strength can still shine through, allowing him to prove that he really does bleed red, white and blue.