Movies about the Viet Nam war tend to be a little different than other war movies because of the polarizing effect the war had on America. While most WWI or WWII movies tout patriotism and demonstrate the citizenry’s support, Viet Nam war movies tend to reflect the dissention and the anguish caused by the war. The anti-war sentiment and the personal struggles faced by returning soldiers who were scorned or worse, ignored, are key in many of the films. What movies about the war in Viet Nam have in common with other war movies is the dedication and sacrifice of the veterans who served.
Apocalypse Now (1979) At 153 minutes runtime for the original release, this epic film follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a mission that is not sanctioned to eliminate a special ops general (Marlon Brando) believed to have gone insane. The film ran over budget and was besieged with problems, such as Sheen’s heart attack. It was ultimately released to critical and popular acclaim and nominated for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Pictures.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989) The film is based on the real life autobiography of Ron Kovic played by Tom Cruise. Kovic, as depicted in the beginning of the film, is the all American kid with a fervent patriotism and stars and stripes in his eye. He enlists and serves 2 tours of duty in Viet Nam, the second taking its toll on him when first he inadvertently fires on one of his own men who dies as a result of the injuries and later when he is severely injured and left paralyzed from the waist down. Returning home, he finds the anti-war sentiment has crept in to even his own family. Support for his views and respect for the sacrifices he has made for his country are impossible to find and Kovic sinks into alcoholism and depression. Cruise received his first Oscar nomination for the role.
Coming Home (1978) The film focuses more on the aftermath of the war and how people coped with its affects. Jane Fonda is Sally Hynes, a woman whose husband Bob (Bruce Dern) is serving in Viet Nam. Scared and alone, Sally decides to do some volunteer work to help pass the time and feel useful. She works at the local hospital and is reunited with an old high school classmate, Luke (Jon Voight). Luke was injured in Viet Nam and is wheel chair bound. The two spend time together and fall in love. When Sally’s husband returns home, she must make a choice.
The Deer Hunter (1978) Christopher Walken, Robert DeNIro, John Savage and Meryl Streep lead an ensemble cast about a group of friends from a neighborhood in Pennsylvania. Three of the friends go off to Viet Nam together and are captured and tortured, leaving one partially paralyzed and unable to go home, another traumatized and incoherent and the third feeling responsible for the other two. Academy Awards went to the film for Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Director and to Walken for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
First Blood (1982) This is the film that gave the world Rambo. It deals with a decorated Special Forces Viet Nam vet who is troubled by his experiences and has trouble fitting in. He is insulted and angered by a small town sheriff (Brian Dennehy) and arrested. Rambo is mistreated in jail which triggers flashbacks of the torture he endured. Compelled by instinct to escape, Rambo wages war on the police force that are now out to get him. The movie was the first of three and has been parodied numerous times because of its popularity.
Good Morning Viet Nam (1987) This was the first film I saw Robin WIllimas display a dramatic side in. Loosely based on the life of Adrian Cronauer, a real-life DJ with the Armed Forces Radio Service, the movie observes one man’s impact on the morale of the troops and his own developing understanding of the war. Cronauer in his off air hours begins to mingle with the Viet Namese people and tries to reach out in his own way. His superiors find his on air antics too irreverent and before long, he is reassigned.
The Green Berets (1968) John Wayne starred in, helped direct and secured military cooperation in the making of this film which was meant to counter the anti-war sentiment prevalent in the country. The movie follows Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby who convenes two teams of men for two separate missions in Viet Nam. One mission is to replace a team of men already at a base camp and hold it while the other team is enlisted to complete an assassination.
Platoon (1986) Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Johnny Depp and Forest Whittaker in this ensemble piece about Chris Taylor, a new member of a seasoned platoon fighting in Viet Nam. Two officers with opposing styles oversee the group. When an illegal kill occurs the two officers and many of men in the platoon find themselves at odds with one another. Taylor struggles not only to survive against the enemy but to overcome the conflict within his unit.
Recue Dawn (2007) Another film based on actual events, this one follows Dieter Denglar, a pilot shot down and captured in Viet Nam. He and his five cell mates make plans to escape but must overcome obstacles including betrayal. When the group learns they are to be executed, they spring their plan and take off in different directions except for Denglar and his friend Duane (Steve Zahn).
We Were Soldiers (2002) Mel Gibson stars as Lt. Colonel Hal Moore, a deeply religious and caring man assigned to oversee the first major American battle in the Viet Nam war. AS he trains his unit of 400 young men, we are given glimpses into the personal lives and backgrounds of several of the soldiers. Later we see how the events of those first days in Viet Nam territory against 2000 enemy soldiers affect each of the men. Called the Valley of Death, the battle has gone down in annals as one of the bloodiest battles in American history. Based on real events as written in the book We Were Soldiers Once… and Young by Lt. General Hal Moore.
Sources: Personal Viewing
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