In the Valley of Elah (2007), Director, Paul Haggis, Running time: 121 minutes.
In career Army officer Hank Deerfield's worldview, the American military exists to bring order to the world, and honor and dignity to every one of its soldiers. As played by Tommy Lee Jones, in a layered performance that will haunt the viewer long after the film is over, Deerfield wears the Army life like he does his standard-issue white T-shirts—unconsciously making a cheap motel bed with crisp inspection-ready corners. Yet if war is hell, the purgatory for the relatives of damaged soldiers can cause far more anguish, and Paul Haggis' quietly devastating In the Valley of Elah tells this story through Deerfield, who is desperately trying to piece together the fate of his adored son Mike, a soldier in Iraq.
Mike's company has returned from duty, but he is missing; Hank flies from Tennessee to Fort Rudd in the Southwest, to conduct his own investigation into the disappearance. There he meets a smart but put-upon police officer (Charlize Theron, glammed-down but still showing a bit too much sexy collarbone for a cop) who also smells something off in the Army's official story of the disappearance. The two form an unlikely team, but as a friend tells Deerfield early on, "You gotta trust somebody sometime, Hank," and Mike's vanishing is Hank's tipping point. As Hank pieces together the horrifying story of Mike's fate, the incremental pain becomes etched in Jones' ragged features, and the camera captures all of it—far more powerfully than could a million words of reportage from the front lines. Theron's performance is also strong, and Susan Sarandon is moving if underutilized as Hank's grief-stricken wife, robbed of the simple nuclear family life she so wanted. "They shouldn't send heroes to places like Iraq," says one of Mike's buddies late in the film, and it's the viewers' collective sorrow—and the film's great achievement—to feel that at the deepest human level. (A.T. Hurley for Amazon.com)
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (2006), Director: Robert Greenwald, Running time: 75 minutes.
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers is the story of what happens to everyday Americans when corporations go to war. Acclaimed director Robert Greenwald (Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Outfoxed, and Uncovered) takes you inside the lives of soldiers, truck drivers, widows and children who have been changed forever as a result of profiteering in the reconstruction of Iraq. Iraq for Sale uncovers the connections between private corporations making a killing in Iraq and the decision makers who allow them to do so.
J’ Accuse (1919 and 1938), Director: Abel Gance, Silent Film, 104 minutes.
The story of two men, one married, the other the lover of the other's wife, who meet in the trenches of the First World War, and how their tale becomes a microcosm for the horrors of war. (Written by Jim Beaver for IMDb)
Jarhead (2005), Director: Sam Mendes, Running time: 123 minutes.
Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal star in this critically acclaimed, brilliantly unconventional war story from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. Jarhead (the self-imposed moniker of the Marines) follows Swoff (Gyllenhaal) from a sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, where he sports a sniper rifle through Middle East deserts that provide no cover from the heat or Iraqi soldiers. Swoff and his fellow Marines sustain themselves with sardonic humanity and wicked comedy on blazing desert fields in a country they don't understand against an enemy they can't see for a cause they don't fully grasp.
Johnny Got His Gun (1971), Director: Dalton Trumbo, Running time: 111 minutes.
Joe, a young American soldier, is hit by a mortar shell on the last day of World War I. He lies in a hospital bed in a fate worse than death—a quadruple amputee who has lost his arms, legs, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. He remains conscious and able to think, thereby reliving his life through strange dreams and memories, unable to distinguish whether he is awake or dreaming. He remains frustrated by his situation, until one day when Joe discovers a unique way to communicate with his caregivers. (Written for IMDb)
Joyeux Noel (2005), Director: Christian Carion, Running time: 116 minutes.
Joyeux Noel captures a rare moment of grace from one of the worst wars in the history of mankind, World War I. On Christmas Eve, 1914, as German, French, and Scottish regiments face each other from their respective trenches, a musical call-and-response turns into an impromptu cease-fire, trading chocolates and champagne, playing soccer, and comparing pictures of their wives. But when Christmas ends, the war returns...Joyeux Noel has been justly accused of sentimentality, but if any subject warrants such an earnest and hopeful treatment, it's the horrors of trench warfare. The largely unknown cast—the more familiar faces include Diane Kruger (Troy), Daniel Bruhl (Good Bye Lenin!), Benno Furmann (The Princess and the Warrior), and Gary Lewis (Billy Elliot)—deliver low-key but effective performances as the movie dwells on the everyday elements of life in the face of war. Based on a true incident. (Bret Fetzer for Amazon.com)
Kelly's Heroes (1970), Director: Brian G. Hutton, Running time: 143 minutes.
This tongue-in-cheek 1970 variation on The Dirty Dozen looks less fresh than it did in the year of its release, but it still has some enjoyable moments. Clint Eastwood stars along with Donald Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O'Connor, and Gavin MacLeod in the story of American soldiers who try to steal gold behind enemy lines in World War II. Sutherland's hippie G.I. doesn't have the sardonic and timely appeal he did during the Vietnam War, but the film's irreverence and several of the performances are worth a visit. (Tom Keogh for Amazon.com)
The Killing Fields (1984), Director: Roland Jaffre, Running Time: 141 Minutes.
This harrowing but rewarding 1984 drama concerns the real-life relationship between New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg and his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor), the latter left at the mercy of the Khmer Rouge after Schanberg—who chose to stay after American evacuation but was booted out—failed to get him safe passage. Filmmaker Roland Joffé, previously a documentarist, made his feature debut with this account of Dith's rocky survival in the ensuing madness of the Khmer Rouge's genocidal campaign. The script spends some time with Schanberg's feelings of guilt after the fact, but most of the movie is a shattering re-creation of hell on Earth. The late Haing S. Ngor—a real-life doctor who had never acted before and who lived through the events depicted by Joffé—is outstanding, and he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Oscars also went to cinematographer Chris Menges and editor Jim Clark. (Tom Keogh, Amazon)
King & Country (1965), Director: Joseph Losey, Running time: 88 minutes.
During World War I, an army private is accused of desertion during battle. The officer assigned to defend him at his court-martial finds out there is more to the case than meets the eye.
King of Hearts (1966) Director: Philipe de Broca, Running Time: 102 minutes.
This film was a touchstone of the late 1960s, when it was seen as an antiwar allegory for a world in which madness seemed to reign. Of course, that would probably be true whenever this movie was shown, wouldn't it? Directed by Philippe de Broca and set during World War I, King of Hearts stars Alan Bates as a Scottish soldier separated from his unit in France. He wanders into a small French village that has been abandoned by its residents in the face of oncoming combat. Instead, the town is populated by the residents of a nearby insane asylum, whose keepers have fled—a fact that escapes the innocent soldier, who assumes these are the regular folks. A film that celebrates the innocence and wisdom of the insane, even as it questions who the real madmen are. (Marshall Fine for Amazon.com)