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This is an excellent depiction of the insanity that was the war in Viet Nam. My view as a naval officer during a scenic tour of the Mekong near the Cambodian border and the Vietnamese city of Chau Phu, permitted me to be a witness to many, many occasions involving the wholesale abuse of humans by humans. The strain on mind, body and soul takes years (if ever) to repair and this film captures it. There are brief glimpses of this agony in some of the other films mentioned here in the reviews, e.g., Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and Platoon. Each of these films have merit but are deeply flawed. Apocalypse Now is steeped in moral allegory to the expense of an accurate portrayal of the war; Full Metal Jacket is only 2/3 completed; Platoon becomes a Levi-Straussian moral tale with an arch villain and virtuous hero-- the latter heinously slain by the former with revenge exacted by the weary sojourner on the odyssey. OK. What do we have here with Hamburger Hill? A story? Heroic acts? Action? Not really. What we have is the horror and insanity of war. The film ends on the same pointless note as it began. But, you know what? Reading through the detractors of this film who touted the other potential three and slammed this one, I would not hesitate to bet they were never there. I could glance at the reviews and pick out the vets-- not just on the basis of whether they liked this film or not but of how they reacted to it. I know and know damn well. I too was there, brothers. See this film. It's well produced, directed and the cast is damn good. Check it out.
I was an infantryman in the field in Vietnam. There are only 2 Vietnam
movies that are even close to real - this one and Apocalypse Now, and they
are both as close as a movie can get.
Hamburger Hill gets it right in many ways, the banter among the grunts, the fatalism mixed with the desire to survive a vicious war, the emotional stress of seeing your fellow GI's become casualties. The GI jargon used in the writing is the most authentic in any movie about that war. But most of all it depicts the incredible, to me mystical, bravery which drives any man into terrible battle in any war, on any side. This movie is an unpretentious marvel.
As for Apocalypse Now, it gets it right in a very different way. Everything in that movie actually happened in Vietnam, crazy as each scene may be to one who wasn't there. Take it scene by scene. Believe everything you see. (Except, of course, the whole Col. Kurtz - private army - assassination theme, which was out of the book about war in South Africa. It made a great hook for this movie, but no U. S. Army senior officer ever went off the deep end like that.)
I, like most of the other people posting comments, believe it is a very realistic movie. Some have commented that they didn't like the characters. Well, I'm a military helicopter pilot and I have worked with the infantry on many missions. When they are in the field, they are subject to a raw lifestyle that few would understand if they had not lived it. I've seen them and I've carried them. They do not apologize for the way they look, act or even smell when they,ve been out for days and weeks. When you see the complete fatigue in their faces, you would not expect them to. They are who they are and I'm proud to have carried them as a crew chief on a CH47 earlier in my career and now as a UH60 pilot. But the movie does need a "goof" link for some critical errors. The men who assaulted Dong Ap Bia "Hamburger Hill" were never attacked by a UH1. The fratricide events occurred 4 documented times. Once by a Skyraider (fixed-wing) and three separate times by AH1 Cobras. The Skyraider dropped, I believe a 1000 pound bomb and the Cobras shot them up with their machine guns and rockets. Having pointed this out, I do realize that the film industry, putting out a lower budget film, might have a difficult time actually finding a Cobra to use. Hueys are easy to find and cheap to operate. Also, the scenes with who is supposed to be Col. Honeycutt in the Command and Control helicopter (you never really see him)portrays him as completely out of harms way during the battles. The fact is that he was in harms way, with NVA artillery constantly. He and his staff also ended up in a fire fight themselves. The radio traffic also leads you to believe he is uncaring and dogmatic with his people. I could only answer this by pointing out that someone had to be the commander and it was a difficult mission. But, the "ruthless uncaring leader" (almost as a matter of political correctness) is the only way Hollywood will portray a commander in Viet Nam. Too bad though, that episode with his staff would have been interesting to have seen acted out. It doesn't change my opinion of the film though. It's one of my favorites in my DVD library.
Many excellent Vietnam films, in an attempt to present their own
interpretation of America's darkest hour, ask many political questions vital
to the war: "What were we fighting for?" "Was this worth it?" "When does
morality take over?" "When does the fighting stop?"
On the other hand, "Hamburger Hill" doesn't need to state any such questions. Rather, it presents the viewer with the scenario-- a group of men trying to advance on a hill-- and allows him to come to his own conclusions. It is a wonderful display of characters from all walks of life, and how hard times brought them together. Some want to be there, others don't, but they call all make the same statement: When it comes to their determination to get on top of that hill and advance upon the enemy, all of those political questions "don't mean nothin'."
This is probably the best Vietman film as far as visuals go. The actions sequences are raw and gory, and the locations are incredibly depressing-- setting the perfect stage for a war movie. Combined with excellent performances by everyone involved, this is certainly an underrated film that presents a clear picture of what the war truly might have been like.
***1/2 out of ****
No stars, no over the top heroics, no secret missions. Brutally realistic and historical accurate Nam film. One of the very few so far. One can nit-pick over the dialogue interludes throughout the film, but as with any story there has to be a set backdrop for characters to develop from. You have to know a little about these guys before you can really feel for them. It's a plot device but it works and takes nothing away from the film. Well done war films are a rarity, especially Vietnam era ones. This particular film is truly a good one. I would even consider it an excellent film for history students of the war and it's times. The last scene screams out in silence what every combat vet knows and feels.
This is one of the very best and most realistic movies on the Vietnam War. There is no politicizing angst like "Platoon" and no flights of fantasy and metaphysics like "Full-Metal Jacket" or "Apocalypse Now". Those movies were too full of themselves and their "message" (and Oliver Stone, in particular, sought more to advance his political viewpoints by distortion rather than show realistic combat). These guys in the 101st Airborne were engaged in a brutal, actual battle. From the first ambush scene through each of the assaults on the hill, realism was achieved. The North Vietnamese hiding safe in their bunkers during air-strikes, only to emerge and start shooting and rolling grenades down the hill again on the paratroopers--all real. The conversations among the troops, about what they would do when they got home, what kind of car they would buy, are all typical of what I remember from my year over there in the infantry. There was no pontificating about good and evil as with Oliver Stone's much overrated "Platoon". Most of all, it showed guys trying just to take care of each other, while still carrying on with a meat-grinder of a mission. The actors were all virtually unknown at the time this was made, but acquitted themselves well. This movie was unfortunately underpromoted and slipped virtually unnoticed through the theaters, leaving most of us to catch it in the video stores. I am glad I came across it. If you missed this one, go rent it.
Extremely brutal and fierce true story about one particular group in the 101
Airborne Division, who spend ten days and eleven battles trying to claim a
muddy and well-occupied hill that's dubbed "Hamburger Hill".
The cast in this film were mostly unknown like Dylan McDermott (who made his film debut here) and Steven Weber who both play the platoon's two weary and determined sergeants, Don Cheadle is one of the five new recruits, Michael Boatman and Courtney Vance are also in the cast. It's certainly well-acted by McDermott and Vance..
John Irvin ("The Dogs of War") directed the film and here, he lets the emotions of the soldiers go very far but not too far and the same can be mentioned for the battle scenes. Also, Irvin take a page of Robert Aldrich's WW2 classic and unforgettable melodrama "The Dirty Dozen". Instead of making instant up close shots as Aldrich did, Irvin slowly moves the camera in and it captures the unpredictable feeling that any of the G.I.s have. I wasn't moved, yet I was amazed as well.
Jim Carabatos ("Heartbreak Ridge") wrote the movie's story and like Irvin, Carabatos is careful in making the tale absolutely clear and very understanding to the viewer. The point that Irvin and Carabatos are trying to make is fascinating and simple: No one here is trying to be the hero nor the villain because surviving the war is a more important factor than trying to be gutsy and wind up being killed.
"Hamburger Hill" isn't the type of war movie like Oliver Stone's "Platoon" or Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" were, but it tends to be like Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" was a few years ago. It's a fierce and very thoughtful film
Drawing from a good book by the same name concerning a real battle, the film
chose to concentrate on a single unit of the 101st Airborne during this
engagement instead of the strategies and tactics of the battle.
Fictionalizing the characters we see the typical group of soldiers, some
new, some veterans, some black, some white, some Hispanic, conduct assault
after assault on a hill for some reason that they only have a vague concept
of. But instead of making the battle slick and interlaced with subplots
about the possession of souls (such as "Platoon") or a work of art (such as
"Apocalypse Now" or "Full Metal Jacket") the characters are real and the
battle is believable.
Whether intentional or not, it is hard to identify individuals in this film. The viewer is aware that there are ethnic and class separations but identities are harder. I believe that this was intentional to some extent by the director so that the impression could be made that this could be any unit and the soldiers could be anyone that you may know. Like the faceless names on the Vietnam War monument during the opening of the film, these soldiers are essentially faceless forcing the viewer to place a face and personality that they are intimate with. The real star of the movie is the battle and the tragedies that resulted. As with the better, and more accurate war films, there are no heroics, just fear; there is no glorious flag waving over a captured fortification, just survivors.
Again, with the better war films it is the little stuff that separates the good ones from the "cowboys and Indians in battle dress" ilk: the radio operator calling in an artillery strike in panic and is reprimanded for not using proper radio protocol, the mud slide down the hill right in the middle of the battle, the officer trying to call for reinforcements and realizing that his radio was blown to bits along with his arm. All of these "touches" are real and give credibility to a film. In this case "Hamburger Hill" stands apart, and somewhat higher, than most films about the subject.
There were many battles for useless real estate in Vietnam but Hamburger was among those that cost the most lives and John Irvin's telling of it on film is up there in my list of the three best films about Vietnam, the other two being "Platoon" and "We Were Soldiers" The critics generally overlooked HH but that doesn't change the fact that it was great movie in my opinion and the actors, while for the most part unknown, did a great job. They were "believable" as grunts.They had the lingo of that day down pat and their characters were well formed by the time the movie gets to the job of taking the Hill. This is especially true of Courtney B.Vance who played Doc.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Minor spoilers here...
This is one seriously disturbing film. I can't even begin to describe just how disturbing it is. It has a pencil-thin storyline, too, and is ultimately pointless. Those are just a few of the qualities that make this perhaps the best -- and I cringe at that word, because it's really a terrible experience to behold -- film yet made about the Vietnam conflict. Built around a cast of unknowns, all of whom turn in utterly convincing performances, this film's script must be either (a) really short or (b) a real mess. Most of the dialogue in the film's last half, for example, is military jargon and yelling, with a lot of screaming thrown in for good measure. Much of the dialogue that precedes it is the kind of meandering, pointless talk that real people -- as opposed to actors in a theatrical production -- fill time with. This feature, a failing in many other films,. is part of what makes this film work. If the film is largely without point that is only because the taking of Hill 937, the 'Hamburger Hill' of the title -- was ultimately pointless (as was, in the larger sense, the entire Vietnam adventure and as is, ultimately, most war itself). The brutally repetitive storming of Hamburger Hill that occupies the second half of the film, particularly from May 15 on (the assault began on May 10, 1969 and was finally completed ten days later), is mindnumbing. Well, you WISH that it were mind-numbing, but your mind's all too awake and aware, and the images that fill it are horrible. This movie has some gruesome scenes and a lot of gore. Is it gratuitous? No. Well, yes, in the sense that the real-life equivalent is just as gratuitous and unnecessary. Is it realistic? Yes. That's what makes it so horrible. Added to this is an extreme sense of confusion to the viewer that mirrors the confusion of the soldiers. All war is better understood after the fact, or by those who draw arrows on campaign maps and make the decisions at the time, and this film does not present the big picture at all. Again, this only places us in greater empathy with the young men sent to complete an ultimately futile task. For that matter, I'm not sure that much of the Vietnam War was even able to be accurately characterized by arrows drawn on maps.
The acting's first-rate, in that it's less acting -- or appears that way -- than real response to an insane situation. Dylan McDermott, Steven Weber, and a couple of others look familiar to me from subsequent projects, but at the time the entire cast was basically new to film, or close enough to it.
An interesting feature of the film is that the NVA soldiers are shown -- these are NVA regulars and not the unseen 'Cong' or 'Charlie' of other films (the Viet Cong were largely a spent force after the 1968 Tet Offensive) -- and the US soldiers, of the legendary 101st Airborne, have more in common with them than with their own commanders. Helicopter-delivered 'friendly fire' only reinforces the question of who the real enemy are, as does intrusion (via letters, a tape recording, a film crew, and personal anecdotes of men home for leave) from 'The World,' an America that had turned its back on -- if not spat on -- the GIs stuck in Vietnam. The black-white, poor-privileged issue is effectively entered into several times, too.
I've never been in combat and was still a kid when the Vietnam war ended, but a friend of mine -- who completed three tours of duty in Vietnam with the Marines (1967-1969...lovely time to be there) -- told me that it's the most realistic Vietnam-war movie that he'd seen. He avoided seeing any movies that would remind him of Vietnam but, in the '80s, his young son began asking him about the War and he was forced to begin dealing with things that he had covered over and mentally put aside. 'Processing' the Vietnam experience, as pop psychologists might say. Part of his self-administered therapy was catching up on movies made on the topic. He didn't talk to me about what he saw in combat (my grandfather was similarly taciturn about his WWI experiences) but he did tell me enough about some of the ancillary matters, like his treatment when he returned to the US, that I was glad that he stopped there. His film recommendations were telling, though. He dismissed the phenomenal "Apocalypse Now" as unrealistic -- not surprising, because, at heart, it is neither about Vietnam nor war -- and he also said that "Platoon" was bogus. In his experience, at least. "Hamburger Hill," he said -- watch Hamburger Hill and you will begin to understand how it was there. I'd never heard of the movie, but I watched it -- this was over a decade ago -- and saw what he meant. I haven't watched it again until today. I wasn't in any particular hurry, either. It's a nasty movie, but only because it was documenting a nasty situation.
This is a movie that I always feel I have to be careful in recommending. It's just a bit too disturbing for some, especially those who avoid violence in movies. The fact that this is not some Charles Bronson exploitation film doesn't really matter, in that respect, and the violence in this film is far more real and random than in any 'slasher' film. I can't believe that the US military actually cooperated in the making of this film. What I do believe is that this should be required viewing for those who don't even blink at sending young men into war, especially for an empty cause. What did the Screaming Eagles do with the hill once they'd finally seized it? They were choppered out after a while, of course. Does that make sense to you? I hope not.
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