Trinity is pleased to offer reviews and recommendations of great films about war, strategy and similar to catch up on during the current period where hosting our own film nights and socials is not possible.
9th Company (2005) [n/a] – 16 October 2020
“No one has ever managed to conquer this country. No one. Ever”, and it would be no different for the young men of the 9th Company in this eponymous film based, somewhat loosely, on real events. The journey of the conscripts to their appointment with history on Hill 3234 begins some six months before on a rainy day in their home city of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. It is 1988 and the Soviet Union has been fighting in Afghanistan for nine years. Through the first night in the local barracks, through the hardships of basic training in Uzbekistan, to a transport aircraft to Baghram Air Base, Lyutyi, Chugun, Giocondo, Ryaba, Stas, Seryi, Vorobey and Pinochet, share experiences that define and test who they are and who they will become.
The soldiers of the 9th Company live through many of the inherent contradictions of the war in Afghanistan and the Soviet system, both of which would end within two years. The operational realities of the growing Afghan insurgency and the presence of vast numbers of Soviet troops, tanks and helicopter gunships is juxtaposed with the Communist Party’s mantra for being there in the first place: to defend their Afghan comrades from imperialism. The failure of Soviet logistics to supply the embedded troops with basic provisions results in the need to steal from their own convoys. There are insightful moments as well – a Freudian explanation of the nature of violence offered to a drill instructor and a discussion of Michelangelo’s approach to aesthetics and its relationship to war.
Curiously, the film itself also contains some contradictions in style. In contrast to moments of insight and originality, there are set-piece ambushes, explosions galore, and a faceless, dimensionless enemy. The latter might be a purposeful attempt to relate to the young conscripts’ own view of the enemy who they did not know or understand. Perhaps. But, the more ‘Hollywood’ moments in this 2005 box office success detract from an otherwise well-told story of a defining period in the Soviet Union.
The Siege of Jadotville (2016) [Netflix] – 07 October 2020
A tense exploration of a forgotten episode in the United Nation’s first foray into peacekeeping. The Siege of Jadotville seeks to tell the story of the real life event whereby roughly 150 Irish soldiers in the southern Congo were besieged by thousands of rebels and mercenaries. There is much to commend the movie on, with the production itself being of a good quality, alongside solid acting performances by the majority of the cast. There are however, significant shortfalls that must be addressed and pointed out. At the core, this movie appears to be suffering from an identity crisis. The tone and perspective switches from an action oriented and guns blazing “last stand” movie, to an exploration of the political causes and failures of interventions, to simply a historical and neutral retelling of a true story.
The movie’s lack of commitment to a single storytelling approach is unfortunate because there is so much to explore about this fascinating battle relegated to the annexes of history. The movie alludes to logistics and fortification issues, which played a major role in its real life counterpart and which could have served as an excellent foundation for a more technically and action focused movie, but these issues are resolved or quickly forgotten. The political infighting and corporate intrigue in Congo at the time could by itself provide an excellent insight into the geopolitical and economic causes of conflict but these are also set aside rather quickly.
At the end of the day, this movie chooses a middle path between several opposing perspectives, and despite these drawbacks it remains a thoroughly entertaining action flick with just enough politics and realism to suggest to its viewers that there is more to war than heroic Rambo soldiers with infinite ammo supplies.
Beasts of No Nation (2015) [Netflix] – 27 April 2020
‘Beasts of No Nation’ wants you to think. Unlike other high-budget Netflix originals, such as War Machine, it does not tell the story of leading individuals within war but instead individuals that are often forgotten. Perhaps this is best reflected by the fact that rather than being based on a true story it is based on a novel by Uzodinma Iweala. In my opinion, the message it provides becomes all the more powerful as a result. The film follows the story of how, a young boy, Agu, finds himself a child soldier in an unnamed West African nation, after the execution of his father and brother.
You do not focus on the political considerations of civil war but the horrific impacts it has on young people that are swept up in the conflict. It leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling, wondering how such destruction is often overlooked. This is best represented by the ‘Commandant’ played by Idris Elba, causing a awe of unease in ragged, war-worn clothes while in a waiting room with others dressed in suits and holding briefcases.
Despite the countless scenes of death and horror it was this one that hit me most. To me, it represented a disconnect I had between war and individuals such as Agu. The acting and cinematography are incredible throughout. This film is not for those who want to learn about civil war in West Africa but for those who want to be forced to think about its impacts.
Paths of Glory (1957) [MGM via Prime] – 16 April 2020
A tale of the horrors of war serves as the backdrop to one of Kubrick’s masterful explorations of human behaviour. The setup is simple, and the focus is uncompromising, and all the more terrible given the real life incident that inspired this film. Set in WWI, a battalion is ordered to launch a near suicidal assault on the German trenches. When many of the soldiers refuse to leave their trenches, unsympathetic superiors order their trial for cowardice, with three men eventually chosen, mostly at random, to be punished in lieu of their entire companies.
Our hero in this story is Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), cast in the role of a courageous but compassionate leader of his men. His struggle to save them from unfair judgement and the mounting of a defence at their trial serves as the central conflict for much of the movie. And yet he quickly becomes little more than an observer to the absurdity of the machinations and ambitions of his superiors.
Kubrick is at his best here, exemplified by his choice to start the movie not on the muddy ground amidst dirty and tired soldiers, but rather in a pristine and peaceful chateau. Here, we are introduced to our antagonists before any other character. Two generals debate the merit and possibility of conducting an assault for political gain. The hardships and losses of their men become mere collateral damage on the road to ambition. At its core, this movie questions the conditions by which men are sent to die on behalf of other, fallible men. The madness of human behaviour, conditioned by perspective and rendered blind by circumstance, is on full throttle in this amazingly written and superbly constructed look at the consequences of war.