Long ago Hollywood governed itself with a Motion Picture Code that forbade excessive content, even in war films. Movies such as Battleground made in 1949 and The Longest Day - from 1962 vividly detailed the conflict of war without including obscene language or overtly graphic violence. But times have changed. And I’ll admit that if there is one genre deserving of a more in-your-face depiction of the realities of man’s inhumanity to man, it’s the war film. If we don’t become immune to it, Hollywood’s CGI “realism” can have a visceral impact that will stay with us long after viewing. Films such as 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and Flags of Our Fathers - from 2006 - inspect the nature of heroics and patriotism with a keen eye, revealing the depth of character submerged in average people. Such is the case with two selections I’ve chosen to spotlight for this Memorial Day tribute.
Despite the rough language and brutal wartime action, I chose these two selections because they contain profound statements. And their violence clarifies the horror of war while indicating the necessity to battle evil in order to preserve the good.
AMERICAN SNIPER recounts the military career of Chris Kyle, a Navy S.E.A.L. who was trained as a sniper in order to protect advancing soldiers within hostile zones. The 2014 Oscar-nominated action drama recreates many of his more than 150 confirmed kills.
Superbly directed by Clint Eastwood, and memorably acted by Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, American Sniper does what most great military films do: it delivers a thoughtful exhortation on the costs of war. While it is pro-God and country, the film points out the haunting price paid for freedom. It is an edgy, tension-driven thriller that also gives us a revealing portrait of home life for the returning vet.
The film drove home the fact that our military face and remember horrors most of us will never have to endure. It reminded me to thank our soldiers for their service. What’s more, I also felt the Holy Spirit putting a burden on my heart for these men and women. I now believe I’m supposed to pray the Lord will replace their nightmares with peaceful dreams, and gently restore wounded bodies and minds. I suspect our prayers for someone we don’t even know is pleasing to our Heavenly Father. Surely He will not ignore them.
WE WERE SOLDIERS from 2001 was written and directed by Randall Wallace, who managed to capture the heat, the fear, and the uncertainty felt by American soldiers in Vietnam. The emotions are downright palpable. As the filmmaker explores the true spirit of American combat forces, he wisely takes us out of the action, relieving us occasionally of the battle intensity. During these moments, the film looks at the wives back home. They have their own battles to fight: including the constant fear that their men will not return, and with America’s increasing polarization over the first televised war.
It is a difficult film to sit through, but there are many outstanding moments that balance out the gut-wrenching segments. Its star, Mel Gibson, gives perhaps his best performance, several times delivering little quotable bon mots – to his kid, his wife, or to a fellow officer – that could have come across as sappy and untrue, but here are expressed with a pitch-perfect clarity of intent.
Gibson’s Col. Moore is portrayed as a religious man, several times seen in prayer, reflecting a reverence for God and a need for the Almighty’s direction. The character reminded me of what King David may have been like when heading his armies.
By the end credits, these two motion pictures have declared war to be a tragedy, while also reminding us of the truism found in Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything…a time for war and a time for peace.”
American Sniper and We Were Soldiers have given me an insight concerning one way evil surfaces to destroy the soul of man. That said, I want to be sensitive to readers who have taken a stand against R-rated content. Allow me to offer an alternative list of war-time films that may inspire you. Several on the list fall within the other MPAA’s categories: http://www.previewonline.org/bestever/war.html
American Sniper was recently released on DVD/ Blu-ray. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will donate a portion of the proceeds across physical and digital sales to Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). One dollar of each purchase will be donated up to $1,000,000 from April 21, 2015 through December 31, 2015, void in Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi and South Carolina. To get involved and learn more, visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.com.