The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter

“You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about. A deer’s gotta be taken with one shot.”

(This review has some spoiler-free discussion of the ending.)

Every once in awhile, there’s a movie that has a strong and profound emotional impact on me, and I can’t articulate exactly why. Lost in Translation and Stand By Me are on that list—and, now, The Deer Hunter is also on that list. Directed by Michael Cimino (Heaven’s Gate, Year of the Dragon) and starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, and Meryl Streep, this is a deep and emotional drama set during the Vietnam War. While most war movies, like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, focus on the war, less than 40 minutes of this 182-minute movie are set in the war. Most of the rest of the movie takes place before and after the soldiers go to war and shows the devastating changes it makes on them. It’s personal in a way that no other war movie is, and it’s a fantastic drama in its own right.

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Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies

“Why must fireflies die so young?”

I’m reluctantly a fan of some anime, but I’ll admit, the medium has been really hit or miss for me. There are some brilliant stories and a lot of stuff that’s just not for me. But when I heard about an anime film that shows World War II through the eyes of two orphaned Japanese children, I knew I had to give it a shot. Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) who was a colleague of Hayao Miyazaki, is a moving and heart-breaking story about the horrors of war and the importance of family in a setting that American viewers don’t often think about. I’ll warn you now: it’s quite sad, and your soul will undoubtedly die a little bit as you watch this. But it’s still a beautiful story that I’m glad I experienced. And if you’re wondering, there is an English dub and it’s pretty decent.

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Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket

“If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human beings.”

There are a lot of good movies about war. Full Metal Jacket is a movie about soldiers. Directed by Stanley Kubrick (The Shining, 2001) and starring Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, and R. Lee Ermey, this movie shows how war affects soldiers, but each soldier responds a little differently. In true Kubrick fashion, the message is not neatly wrapped and handed to the viewer, and it’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide what he or she feels afterward. Also in true Kubrick fashion, the movie is absolutely brilliant and masterfully executed. It stands out as a deeply personal war film with excellent art direction that’s worth seeing today.

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Platoon

Platoon

“I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.”

There’s an old Native American parable about two wolves which fought for control of a man’s soul, one good and one evil, and it’s the one that was nurtured and fed that won the battle. Platoon, written and directed by Oliver Stone (Snowden, Natural Born Killers) and starring a host of actors, including Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Forest Whitaker, plays out similarly, but with the two wolves manifested in the protagonist’s two commanding officers. It’s about war just as much as it’s about what war does to soldiers, and civilians. And as Chris, our protagonist, grows to admire both of his commanding officers for different reasons, the question of what kind of man he will become burns brighter still.

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