Real Life War Films - Can they just be entertaining?


I couldn’t sleep last night, so got up around 1 am and Black Hawk Down was on TV, this is a film I can watch over and over again, so I settled down for the duration. At the end, which was about 3:30 am, I got to thinking, this film that I had just watched and really enjoyed was depicting real life events, these characters I’ve just seen on the screen were based on real people. These people suffered real pain and horrors unimaginable they died on the streets of Mogadishu. And I’m sitting there thinking, what a great action film.

There are at least two sides to this thought, if not more, firstly these films were written and filmed in honour of those who suffered, they are a testament to their sacrifice and their lives. They are a way that what these people went through can be recognised by millions of people that might not otherwise know their stories.

On the other hand, can you truly say you enjoyed a film, in which the deaths of characters are mimicking the deaths of real people. You can probably say it is directed well and well-written, you can say the actors did a great job, but can you say you enjoyed it as a spectacle?

I’ll be honest neither is an answer that I am fully happy about. Because yes, I do enjoy these four films above as films, I think they are great films, really watchable, the direction, writing and acting is all very good. These are an entertaining watch and films are there to entertain. However, I am also very aware of the lives of those who I am watching actors portraying. Black Hawk Down for instance, as soon as I watched the film, I read the book it was based on, after Glory I spent time researching the history of it. These films have sent me away wanting to find out more about the history of the events and to learn and educate myself about the people Involved. In that way, they are doing their job as well. They are educating people. And as a teacher, I do love a bit of educating.

So, yes, they are entertaining and yes, they do honour the memories of those involved, BUT only if they are done well.

Anyway, on with the films themselves.

Black Hawk Down – 2001 – Somalia – telling the story of an attempt by US Rangers and Special Forces to capture two lieutenants of a Somali Warlord, which went horribly wrong and led to the loss of two Black Hawks and their crews as well as some ground troops and the injuring of many more. It is a who’s who of American and British film and TV actors and shows the reality in a no wholes barred way, but with added Hollywoodisation.

Glory – 1989 – American Civil War – following the first volunteer all-black regiment in the Union Army and their white officers. This film shows not only the struggles of a war for freedom but also the political struggles of a country still trying to get used to equality. A real hard-hitting watch, but so well done.

Hamburger Hill – 1987 – Vietnam War – overshadowed by the more famous Platoon, Hamburger Hill is a powerful film in its own right. It follows a Platoon from the 101st Airborne as they attempt to take the aforementioned ‘Hamburger Hill’ from the control of the North Vietnamese Army, the platoon has a mixture of raw recruits and grizzled veterans, it still suffers from the inbuilt racism of many people at the time of the war as well as the physical confrontations whilst trying to gain a victory in a war that many thought would contain no victories even if a battle was won. Its focus on one single platoon in a small part of the war works for it as it becomes an intense watch in an unimaginable situation.

Zulu – 1964 – Boer War – a film that is rightly considered a true classic, follows the men of Rourke’s Drift as 150 British Soldiers, many of who are sick, and wounded are surrounded by 4,000 Zulu warriors who have already massacred a much larger British Force. It is a battle that was fought hand to hand, tactical situation by tactical situation, ‘waiting till you can see the whites of their eyes’ closeness. And with probably the best rendition of ‘Men of Harlech’ ever put to film.

All these films contain historical inaccuracies but all of them show the history of these soldiers in a relatively true to life manner. And all are very watchable films. And in their own way, each has educated me in some way about the world around me.

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