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Recruits head to the front lines towards the close of the Korean War. The interaction between two of the soldiers...an idealistic newcomer and a psychotic who goes on one-man patrols slitting enemy throats under cover of night...and the orphan boy who comes between them is examined. The Cease-Fire brings the three to a final resolution. Written by
Martin H. Booda <email@example.com>
Pvt. Roy Loomis:
Once you get out of training, you're funneled into what's called the pipeline, and you become a number while you're traveling in it, until you get spewed out somewhere at the other end. After you land, you look for signs of war. A bullet scar in a wall, a bombed out building. You don't have to look very hard. You see a lot of poverty, kids starving. When you get out of the trucks after the ship and the train, you know the pipeline is carrying you further toward the front. You're ...
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Director Denis Sanders isn't a very well-known or acknowledged filmmaker. After seeing "War Hunt", I looked up his filmography, hoping to credit him to another, more mainstream film one does not exist. Fortunately, a man does not have to be well known or have a huge fan base to be a good director. "War Hunt" is one of the best low-budget sleepers in the video store, now available on DVD from MGM.
Running less than 90 minutes, "War Hunt" tells a powerful story about the toll of warfare on those who fight it. Idealism, patriotism and notions of heroism are forgotten in the midst of battle. Instead of making men into saints, war usually turns them into demons. Pvt. Loomis (an impossibly young Robert Redford) arrives in Korea during the last few weeks of the war. He meets Raymond Endore (John Saxon, "The Cavern"), an unhinged draftee who thrives on night patrols, during which he kills North Korean soldiers in their sleep. Endore has taken Charlie (Tommy Matsuda), a Korean orphan, into his care and Loomis also befriends the boy, hoping to wrest him away from Endore's dangerous influence.
Much like "Hell is for Heroes" which premiered the same year, "War Hunt" was shot on a shoestring budget in the Midwestern United States. From start to finish, it's obvious that the military did not back the production. After all, this is a very anti-military movie. There are only a few extras on-hand and we only see a few trucks. The lack of financing really shows through in the climactic scene in which hordes of Chinese troops attack the entrenched Americans; most of the explosions and reactions to them look utterly false and stagy.
Thankfully, this is not a picture about action and the glory of war it's about the aftermath of such scenes. The fighting serves to push the conflict forward in the quiet moments of rest and recuperation when the bullets are done flying. In fact, in the film's third act, set during the cease-fire with the Chinese, the most devastating violence occurs. Endore sets off with Charlie to live in the mountains after the war's end, refusing to admit that he is part of the Army and must return home. The final conclusion between Endore and Captain Pratt (Charles Aidman) is quick, gritty and comes to an unexpected, powerful conclusion.
Sanders' ensemble cast is superb in every way. Redford, in his film debut, is actually quite memorable as Loomis. The first time we meet Loomis, we already know what to expect: we've seen this type of clean-cut, fair-haired boy before. He'll go on to undergo a baptism of fire and become the hero of the piece. Not so, here. Loomis arrives in Korea with ideals and patriotism; much like Charlie Sheen's Chris Taylor in "Platoon", he comes to realize that there are only two kinds of men in warfare: those who crack under its pressures, like Endore, and those who just want to survive, like his new found friends Crotty (Gavin MacLeod) and Showalter (Tom Skerritt). His scenes between Charlie are tender, poignant and moving. His encounters with Endore are chilling and unconventionally solved. As Endore, John Saxon brings a new meaning to the word psychopath. We've never met a wacko like him before. His mannerisms, dialog, expressions, are all played with utter randomness. It's as if he was handed the role and told "do what you want with it". There are times when Endore is almost completely human, but something in his eyes tells us that perhaps there is something slightly wrong with this guy. As the nature of his character is gradually revealed, we can't help but become shocked, almost frightened.
"War Hunt" is a cliché-free, freshly original and involving drama. It makes a strong statement about war's general destructive nature. This is a movie about survival and flawed idealism, not heroism and courage. Kudos to the director for choosing to pick such a controversial subject. The film is almost prophetic in that it approaches the Korean War with an attitude that would come across with force and power in Vietnam films 25 years later, like "Hamburger Hill" and "Platoon".
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