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,” in 1962, vividly detailed the conflict of war without including obscene language or overly 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 (computer generated imagery) “realism” can have a visual and visceral impact that will stay with us long after viewing.
Films such as 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” 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 in this Memorial Day tribute.
Despite the rough language and vividly detailed wartime action, both my choices contain profound statements. Their violence clarifies the horror of war and indicates the necessity of battling evil in order to preserve the good.
This movie recounts the military career of Chris Kyle, a Navy S.E.A.L. trained as a sniper to protect soldiers advancing 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 (Kyle carried a Bible at all times) and pro-country (he did four tours of duty), 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.
Despite its R rating, here’s my ultimate reason for praising American Sniper. It drove home the fact that our military face and remember horrors most of us will never endure. The film reminded me not just to thank our soldiers for their service; 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’
This movie 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. Also, they must deal 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 the gut-wrenching segments. Its star, Mel Gibson, gives perhaps his best performance. Several times he delivers witty remarks – 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 intention.
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 the biblical King David may have been like when heading his armies.
By the end credits, these two motion pictures have declared that war is a tragedy, while also reminding us of the truth 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.
American Sniper has recently been released on DVD/Blu-ray.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright, in addition to writing for Baptist Press, reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)