1917, the World War One epic that has picked up 10 Oscar nominations (including for Best Picture and Best Director for Sam Mendes), is currently going great guns in cinema. If it has put you in the mood for more war on screen, then fire up Netflix, where there are plenty of military flicks to pick from.
1917 is not Sam Mendes’s first foray onto the battlefield. Jarhead, released in 2005, was an adaptation of a memoir written by US marine Anthony Swofford about his experience of serving in the first Iraq war – the resulting film is a different kind of war movie in which the longueurs of conflict are brought to the fore. Mendes directs with his customary assurance and the performances are first rate, particularly from Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford and Jamie Foxx as one of the sergeants who trains him. Thanks to the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is up for one of 1917’s Oscar nominations, Jarhead also looks magnificent.
The Great Escape
Needing little in the way of introduction, The Great Escape is the very definition of ‘classic war film’. You probably know how this one turns out, but it’s always worth revisiting Steve McQueen’s and co.’s attempts to break free of Stalag Luft III.
Platoon and The Vietnam War
A double-bill recommendation for those keen to delve into the Vietnam War. First up, watch another classic, Platoon, which draws on writer-director Oliver Stone’s experience as a soldier in that brutal conflict. The film, starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, is still extremely powerful, and, if you’re keen to find about more about ‘Nam, Netflix has plenty more to offer in the shape of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary series, entitled simply The Vietnam War. Burns and Novick recount the major political and military moments in great detail and with fine clarity. It includes interviewees from all sides of the war with the personal stories that are threaded through the narrative adding a huge amount of pathos. Running at about 18 hours in all, the series is a monumental achievement, but requires a big commitment on the part of the viewer. If you can spare the time, you definitely won’t regret it.
Beasts of No Nation
This Netflix production, which was released in 2015, is an adaptation of a novel by Uzodinma Iweala. Set in an unnamed west African country that’s being ripped apart by civil war, it tells the story of a young boy called Agu who is swallowed up and corrupted by the violence the surrounds him. Early in the film he is forced to join a rebel militia by a charismatic warlord, played brilliantly by Idris Elba. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, Sin Nombre) ratchets up the tension as the story unfolds, and when the violence comes it bloody and brutal – the scene in which Agu first wields a machete in anger is particularly unsettling.
Like Beasts of No Nation, Fury focuses on a young soldier being taken under the wing of a battle hardened superior and changed forever by war. For this one, the war in question is the Second World War, and the film follows Private Norman Ellison, who is posted to Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier’s tank platoon as it rolls into Germany in the dying days of the conflict. Brad Pitt is on good form as Collier, helping to elevate this bleak and gritty, if occasionally misfiring, war movie.
This Oscar-nominated documentary is not what most people would call a proper war film, but the way it chronicles the violence and madness of Mexico’s drug war makes it a more than appropriate alternative choice for this list. Director Matthew Heineman trails two groups of vigilantes fighting back against the cartels on both the Mexican and American sides of the border, and what results is a devastating account of seemingly endless violence and corruption. This is very much filmmaking from the frontline – at one point Heineman and his crew find themselves in the middle of a running gun battle in the streets of Michoacán.