Archive for the War Category

A Hidden Life

Posted in Biography, Drama, History, War with tags on June 15, 2020 by Mark Walker

Director: Terrence Malick
Screenplay: Terrence Malick
Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Matthias Schoenaerts, Franz Rogowski, Bruno Ganz, Michael Nyqvist, Wolfgang Michael, Karl Markovics, Ulrich Matthes, Tobias Moretti, Maria Simon, Martin Wuttke, Johannes Krisch, Johan Leysen.

“Better to suffer injustice than to do it”

Despite his reputation of being a very philosophical and existential filmmaker, it’s fair to say that not everyone responds favourably to a Terrence Malick picture. He has such an idiosyncratic and ponderous style that some viewers simply don’t have the patience for him. Even those that do, didn’t take kindly to his recent trilogy of contemporary set-works To The Wonder, Knight Of Cups, and Song To Song. That said, when Malick is working on stories from the past, he’s able to excel and fully realise the themes that he endeavours to express. A Hidden Life sees Malick return to a bygone time in history that suits his craftsmanship but, more importantly, sees him return to scintillating form. Continue reading


Posted in History, War with tags on December 28, 2017 by Mark Walker

Director: Christopher Nolan.
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan.
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Barry Keoghan, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Kevin Guthrie, Adam Long.

“Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children to fight it?”

It’s now fair to say that Christopher Nolan has become a director that instils huge anticipation when he announces a new film project. He’s equally adept at providing low-key, personal, thrillers like Memento and Insomnia and more than proved his worth with big-budget spectacles like The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Interstellar. It’s fitting then that he tackle a war drama – a genre that demands an element of both approaches. After Steven Spielberg shell-shocked us with Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick encouraged us to ruminate and philosophise with The Thin Red Line, anyone treading the same ground had huge boots to fill. On this occasion, Nolan does an admirable job but I’d have to be honest and say that he doesn’t quite reach the high benchmark that had already been set by these contemporary films. Continue reading

Hacksaw Ridge

Posted in Drama, War with tags on March 13, 2017 by Mark Walker

Director: Mel Gibson.
Screenplay: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight.
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Richard Pyros, Jacob Warner, Milo Gibson, Darcy Bryce, James Lugton, Nathaniel Buzolic, Troy Pickering, Richard Roxburgh.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons”

It’s hard to believe that Apocalypto in 2006 was the last time Mel Gibson was behind the camera. I suppose 10 years in movie-making exile is where antisemitic rants gets you in Hollywood. That aside, it’s a pleasure to see Gibson directing again as he often delivers big, entertaining spectacles and his latest certainly falls into line with that. Continue reading

The Monuments Men

Posted in Action, Comedy, Drama, War on January 21, 2015 by Mark Walker


Director: George Clooney.
Screenplay: George Clooney, Grant Heslov.
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Demitri Leonidas, Alexandre Desplat.

“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for”

When George Clooney made his directorial debut in 2002 with the off-beat Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and followed it up with the superb McCarthyism drama Good Night and Good Luck it seemed that he had just as much talent behind the camera as he did in front of it. However, the dull Leatherheads and largely disappointing The Ides of March came next which threw some doubt over his ability to call the shots. The Monuments Men, unfortunately, has more in common with his latter efforts.

Continue reading

The Deer Hunter

Posted in Drama, War with tags on May 21, 2014 by Mark Walker


Director: Michael Cimino.
Screenplay: Deric Washburn.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Cazale, John Savage, George Dzundza, Chuck Aspegren, Rutanya Alda, Shirley Stoler, Pierre Segui, Joe Grifasi, Somsak Sengvilai.

You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about. A deer has to be taken with one shot. I try to tell people that but they don’t listen

Released in 1978, only three years after the official end of the Vietnam war, Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” seemed as if it may have been too soon for the American psyche. It was a surprising box-office hit but was also one of the most controversial, major theatrical releases about America’s involvement in the war. It went on to receive 9 Academy Award nominations (winning 5 – including Best Picture and Best Director). Despite this, the backlash was pretty vehement. It received criticism from the likes of Jane Fonda and John Wayne – who in his last public appearance had to present it with it’s Best Picture award even though he wasn’t fond of the film. These criticisms came in many forms but for as many critics as it had, there were also a great number who considered it to be another American classic.

Continue reading

Waltz With Bashir * * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation, Foreign Language, War with tags on September 8, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Ari Folman.
Screenplay: Ari Folman.
Voices: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Shmuel Frenkel, Zahava Solomon, Ori Sivan, Dror Harazi.

The Israel & Palestine conflict never makes an easy topic for discussion and tends to bring passionate opinions to the surface. As a result, it’s difficult for anyone approaching the subject. Here, however, we are given a film that wisely doesn’t address the politics of the conflict, choosing instead to focus more on the atrocity and brutality of war.

On realising he has no memory of serving in the Israeli Army during the First Lebanon War in 1982, Ari Folman tracks down his old buddies to hear their stories of the conflict, and try to solve the mystery of his own psychological blindspot.

Thanks in large to it’s strikingly powerful artwork, this is a documentary that’s one of the most original of it’s kind. It consists of a serious of investigative interviews with director and war veteran Folman and his comrades who served with him during the conflict. Like the stories they relate, the interviews are also included in the animation and had this been done otherwise this may not have held our interest as much as it does. It helps bind the film into a coherent and visually stunning experience. Having served as an Israeli soldier, Folman wisely doesn’t justify his actions – if anything he abhors them. As he pieces the stories together, the revelation of his deep rooted memories are harrowing and it’s no wonder he developed temporary amnesia. He psychologically blocked his memories due to the atrocities and sheer brutality of the massacre – that he was involved in – of Palestinian men, women and children. Despite, this heavy subject matter, amidst the backdrop of war and barbarism, there are still many scenes of such power and surreal beauty.


Deservedly Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language film, this is a provocative, gruesome and visually stunning movie, that captures an eerie and haunting feel throughout. Within it’s shocking delivery, it carries a very important anti-war message while echoing the work of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”. Absolutely superb and quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

Mark Walker

Saving Private Ryan * * * * *

Posted in Action, History, War with tags on May 24, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Steven Spielberg.
Screenplay: Robert Rodat.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Farina, Ted Danson, Harve Presnell, Bryan Cranston, Dale Dye, David Wohl, Ryan Hurst, Harrison Young, Nathan Fillion, Leland Orser.

When Steven Spielberg was finally handed a long overdue Oscar in 1993, he received it for tackling the harrowing genocides of World War II in “Schindler’s List“. So far, he’s only received two Best Director Awards and the other was fittingly received when he tackled the battlefields of that very same war in “Saving Private Ryan“. Two different film’s but equally as powerful as the other.

During WWII, Chief of Staff General Marshall (Harve Presnell) is informed of the death of three brothers in different conflicts and that their mother will receive the telegrams at the same time. A fourth brother, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is believed to be still alive, somewhere in the French countryside, and the decision is taken to locate him. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), is given the rescue mission of leading his 2nd Ranger battalion through Nazi occupied territory to find Ryan and send him home.

Spielberg is, quite simply, one of the finest filmmakers that has ever graced the craft. He is, and will continue to be, heralded throughout generations of audiences and that’s with very good reason, as he’s instilled a sense of awe and unadulterated entertainment for over 40 years now. Despite an impressive backlog of movies that consists of such classics like “Jaws“, “Close Encounters…“, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T“, the opening 25 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” – where he thrusts us into the 1944 D-Day landings of Omaha Beach – is arguably his most impressive and certainly his most visceral work. It’s absolutely exhausting in it’s construction and sense of realism and the realisation soon sets in, that this cinematic autuer is not about to pull any punches in portraying a time in history that’s very close to his heart. The opening is so commanding that some have criticised the film for not living up this grand and devastating scale but Spielberg has many more up his sleeve. He’s just not able to deliver them too close together – otherwise, the film would be absolutely shattering and very difficult to get through. To bridge the gap between breathtaking battles scenes the film falls into a rather conventional storyline about men on a mission but it’s only purpose is to keep the film flowing and allows Spielberg the ability to make the brutality of war more personal. Two scenes in particular, are as overwhelming as the opening to the film: the hand-to-hand combat between a German soldier and Private Mellish (played by Adam Goldberg) and the deeply emotional and ironic injuries of T-4 Medic Wade (played by Giovanni Ribisi). These moments in the film are the most difficult to watch but they only really work because we are allowed the time to bond with the characters beforehand and experience the combat with them. Each of them have a particular, but very different appeal, making it harder to accept when some of them perish in savage and harrowing circumstances.
The cast also deserve the utmost praise for making the roles their own; the always reliable Hanks is solid in the central role and there are exceptional performances from the first rate support, namely, Barry Pepper and the aforementioned Goldberg and Ribisi, who are all outstanding.
Janusz Kaminski’s magnificent, and Oscar winning, cinematography is also starkly delivered; his images are both beautifully and horrifically captured and Spielberg’s decision to desaturate the colour and adopt some handheld approaches, add an authenticity that’s rarely been captured in the genre and brings another dimension to some of the finest and most realistic battle scenes ever committed to the screen.
There’s not much in the way of criticism that I can throw at this near masterpiece, other than Robert Rodat’s script; the conventional plot strays into cliché where the Germans are completely stereotypical and there is absolutely no sign of an Allied soldier anywhere. Rodat would have you believe that America fought the war singlehandedly, but despite these discrepancies, the film has so much power that these faults can be overlooked.

One of the darkest chapters in our history is viscerally captured in a raw and uncompromising piece of work from a virtuoso director, tapping into the highest of his abilities. Some may prefer the more fantastical and escapist nature of Spielberg, but for me, this is the finest film he’s made.

Mark Walker


Pan’s Labyrinth

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror, War on March 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

20130328-121736.jpgDirector: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sergi López, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones, Ariadne Gil, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor.

“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts”

Despite being quite a prominent name in cinema just now, director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t actually made that many movies. He came to attention in 1993 with his excellent feature debut “Cronos” before Hollywood quickly took note and employed him on such films as “Mimic” and “Blade II“. However, his strengths lie in his own original work where he retains creative control. Of which, there are three that really stand out; the aforementioned “Cronos” is one, “The Devil’s Backbone” another and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which to this day, remains his masterpiece. Continue reading

Zero Dark Thirty * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, War with tags on February 1, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Kathryn Bigelow.
Screenplay: Mark Boal.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez, Harold Perrineau Jr, Stephen Dillane, Mark Duplass, Frank Grillo, Reda Kateb, Nash Edgerton, Jeremy Strong, Scott Adkins, John Barrowman.

So, after the Oscar winning heights of “The Hurt Locker“, director Kathryn Bigelow decides to stick to a winning formula and follow up that success with another war themed drama. Personally, I wasn’t keen on on her previous Oscar winning movie and I’m just as less enthusiastic about this one.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden becomes the prime target following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Heading the search operation is CIA intelligence analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) who commits ten years to tracking him down, while others around her have their doubts and reservations. In 2011, her commitment pays off as she believes that he has been in hiding in Pakistan and a U.S. Navy SEAL team are sent in to capture or kill.

Beginning with the events of 9/11, the film fast forwards 2 years where it dares to expose American torture tactics to find the culprits of that fateful attack on New York. Although distressing, they are brilliantly and bravely captured which has led to some controversy on Bigelow’s part. The film, basically, doesn’t waste time in getting down to business and although the early stages consist of interrogations, Bigelow does well to maintain interest and tension. After this, the film gets bogged down in an attempt to capture recent events that require much more than a 2 1/2 hour movie to sum up.
Apparently, the script of this film was changed during the filming; the original story was the hunt for bin Laden but his (supposed) capture and death occurred before the film was completed. As a result, we have the ending to this manhunt. Personally, I don’t buy bin Laden’s capture. That’s not to say that I think he’s still roaming the earth. He may well be dead but I just don’t believe that events played out the way we have been told they did. It stinks to me that we are supposed to buy the – almost hush-hush – news coverage of such a high-profile event in current affairs. Sadam Hussein’s death was plastered all over the media but with bin Laden we are to just accept with very little evidence produced. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I can’t (and won’t) readily accept everything I’m told in the media. I believe it to be western propaganda that only serves to instil a belief in people that an end to the conflict is near. People want to believe. People need to believe. Much has been said about the 10-year-long manhunt to capture and kill bin Laden but if, buffoonish, Bush Jr, wasn’t so hell bent on drilling for oil and finishing his dear old pappy’s lucrative business in Iraq then that time wouldn’t have passed.
Anyway, I digress. My write-up is becoming more about my personal beliefs than it is a film review. So let’s get back to the job at hand. This is a film that is, undoubtedly, well structured and captured but I found that it meandered and as a result, I began to write a big “lefty” spiel (which I have omitted here) on my opinion of the conflict that we, as the west, finds ourselves in. And the reason this happened? Frankly, it was because I was bored. It wasn’t until the hour mark that things begin to get interesting but just when it began to look good, it got bogged down in boardroom scenarios and endless eastern locations. I have been a big fan of Bigelow’s previous movies but her recent venture into political events doesn’t cut it for me. She’s a director that has vibrancy and energy that is hard to compete with but on recent evidence, she’s entering into a territory that doesn’t accentuate her skills.
What does work in this, is the performances; Jessica Chastain proves, once again, why she’s everywhere at the moment. Her progression from shrinking violet to doggedly determined shows good range and some supporting actors also deliver solid work; Jason Clarke (“Lawless“) is a standout in the earlier part of the movie and Kyle Chandler (“Super 8“) gets a chance to flex his acting chops in some tense verbal confrontations. James Gandolfini and Joel Edgerton are a couple of late inclusions and it’s only in the last half hour that Bigelow shows her abilities in staging the action set-pieces. By then, though, it’s too little too late. What she does do, in her defence, is portray the actions of soldiers less than heroic. Which is one of the few truths that she shows in the entire film. Another is the ambiguity in the identity of bin Laden. At one point Stephen Dillane’s character says “… bin Laden, do I give up all hope of possibly seeing a photograph of him?” Eh… I’m afraid so. As an audience, we have to, yet we’re still expected to believe that he was identified and located on a farmyard, killed and buried at sea and an agency expert visually confirmed his identity when she hadn’t, physically, ever laid eyes on bin Laden herself.

Gung-Ho, western propaganda at it’s most concentrated. Some of it is impressively handled but ultimately, it’s nonsense that masquerades as intelligent filmmaking. It’s far from it and another blip in Bigelow’s, seemingly, great reputation. As a surfer- dude once said, in her earlier psuedo-spiritual, action pinnacle… “Go back to the valley, man…“.

Mark Walker


Coriolanus * * * *

Posted in Drama, thriller, War with tags on June 4, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Ralph Fiennes.
Screenplay: John Logan.
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson, Lubna Azabal, Ashraf Barhom, Dragan Mieanovie, Jon Snow.

As a personal rule, I don’t watch adaptations of William Shakespeare’s works unless I’ve read the play beforehand. I like to have a frame of reference when it comes to the bard but in this case, I capitulated and couldn’t resist putting the film off any longer. I’ll always wish that I had found the time but that doesn’t diminish the overall quality or power of this interpretation from first time director Ralph Fiennes.

In a war ravished modern state calling itself Rome, where the people and the military have taken to the streets, hero General Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is set to become the leader of the republic. Opponents across the political scale have other ideas though and attempt to orchestrate his downfall and banishment. Once exiled, the furious General forms an alliance with former nemesis Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) and returns home, intent on taking revenge on the city that has scorned him.

Despite the modern alternative setting that Fiennes chooses for his adaptation, he still manages to retain the feel of a play. Some scenes reflect a classic BBC dramatisation and he employs some high quality actors to provide the goods. The classically trained actress Vanessa Redgrave is the most comfortable amongst the ensemble as the influential matriarch Volumunia. She delivers her lines with absolute confidence and such an understanding of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. She’s not alone though; for as little time as they get, the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain delivers a reserved performance as Coriolanus’ disconsolate wife Virgilia and Gerard Butler proves that his talents lie beyond mere rom-com’s and mindless action movies as Aufidius, the rebel leader of the Volscian army. Butler’s fellow Scotsman Brian Cox also shows some real presence in one of his better roles of recent years as the Roman senator Menenius. But as the tortured and unrelenting protagonist Caius Martius Coriolanus, it’s Fiennes that takes centre stage, chewing it up in the process and delivering an intense and ferocious performance. It’s often forgotten how good an actor Fiennes really is but this is proof, once again, that given some meaty material, he can really sink his teeth into it. Shakespeare’s works tend to be all about the prose and the performers and as much as this film delivers on that front, it also delivers an effective modern setting with surprisingly brilliant action set-pieces. There is a real intensity to the politics involved and Fiennes wisely chooses to stick with the original material. It’s hard to balance Shakespeare’s writing’s in a contemporary way and for the most part, it works impressively. However, as the original play is based on a supposed Roman general during the 5th century BC, there are regular references to the common beliefs of this time. “The gods” is an often used piece of dialogue that doesn’t quite fit with the chosen setting and whenever the actors deliver lines with such, it jars slightly. The rest of the film though, is a towering and mesmerising take on the machinations and intrigue of political power.

As always with Shakespeare, it takes a while to tune your ear but the visuals are so effective and the performances so good, that it brings one of his lesser known tragedies, comfortably, to a wider audience. It also heralds the arrival of exemplary actor Ralph Fiennes as an exemplary new director.

Mark Walker


The Men Who Stare At Goats * * *

Posted in Comedy, War with tags on March 30, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Grant Heslov.
Screenplay: Peter Straughan.
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Root, Robert Patrick, Stephen Lang, Rebecca Mader, Glenn Morshower.

Grant Heslov is mainly known for his producing and writing collaborations on some of George Clooney film’s. However, on this occasion he takes the directorial reigns, leaving me wondering what might have come of this film had someone with more experience been behind the camera.

In the 1980’s, reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) stumbles onto the story of the ‘New Earth Army’, a bold, experimental unit formed by the U.S. It’s purpose is to train so-called ‘Jedi’ warriors to use paranormal powers, including mind control, for the use in battle and to help in the interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Then he meets one of the unit’s major players Lyn Cassady (Clooney), now supposedly retired, and tags along for a series of misadventures in Iraq.

Amazingly, this is based on a true story and with this prior knowledge and superior cast, you’d expect something quite special. Sadly, it doesn’t provide it. It starts off, looking very good indeed but after the half hour mark I started drifting when the realisation came, that it wasn’t going anywhere. The cast are excellent as you’d expect; Clooney, once again, shows nice comic touches and expressions, Spacey is under-used but still manages scene stealing moments and Bridges is absolutely brilliant as the spaced out, hippie commander Bill Django – which is a little reminder of his iconic portrayal of “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski“. McGregor also does well, amongst these heavy hitters and has nearly developed a decent American accent. It’s just a shame that their performances were not helped with something that resembled a script. To be fair though, there are still some nice comedy moments and there are many interesting components to the story but it lacks drive. Maybe it’s because the assembled cast is so impressive that more is expected. Or maybe, it’s because it’s in the hands of a novice director – punching above his weight. Either way, it disappoints. This is a film that the likes of the Coen brothers could have taken to great heights. It has a similar sense for the brothers’ off-beat humour but lacks their creativity.

A passable comedy, that amuses sporadically but relies too heavily on it’s four main performers. It’s them that maintain your interest but the material should have been delivered with more confidence.

Mark Walker


The Messenger * * * *

Posted in Drama, War with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Oren Moverman.
Screenplay: Oren Moverman, Allessandro Camon.
Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, Eamonn Walker, Brendan Sexton III.

War films tend to show you the brutality of conflict on the battlefield; the blood and the guts; the firepower; the fear and the bravery. Few address the conflict at home, which is quite surprising as the ones that do, tend to be raw and personal stories. This one certainly is.

Decorated Iraq war veteran Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is back home and dealing with various ailments. He’s assigned to the Casualty Notification Office, where he and his superior Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) have the unwelcome task of informing next of kin whenever a soldier dies.

A very impressive debut from director Oren Moverman who also co-scripted but also a very bleak and depressing drama, dealing with a part of war that is so often overlooked. Foster and Harrelson (in an oscar nominated role) both deliver intense and solid performances, every time they notify a next of kin, it’s unbearably nerve wracking. Each relative dealing with their grief in different ways. Some with anger and violence, some with devestation, some with remorse, but each one as powerful as the next. As the film progresses, it concentrates less on the job they do and more on their own personal suffering, and as a result, loses momentum. However, when the full extent of their own emotional suffering becomes clear we are treated to a masterclass of acting from Foster and Harrelson in what becomes a very personal moment between them. There are periodic lulls, especially when the film branches off into Foster’s romantic involvements with Samantha Morton and Jena Malone but these lulls are coupled with sporadic moments of brilliance. Ben Foster is steadily building a reputation for himself with his consistant portrayal of tortured souls and Harrelson – although not always a favourite of mine – is really starting to win me over with his shrewd choice of unselfish roles.

Stark and hard-hitting but the performances from the two leads and the raw emotional power it posseses make it quite captivating.

Mark Walker


The Thin Red Line * * * * *

Posted in Drama, War with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Terrence Malick.
Screenplay: Terrence Malick.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas, Ben Chaplin, Dash Mihok, Adrian Brody, John C. Reilly, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, Mirando Otto, Nick Stahl, Thomas Jane, John Savage, Kirk Acevado, Tim Blake Nelson, Mark Boone Junior, Don Harvey, Donal Logue, John Travolta, George Clooney.

After making “Badlands” in 1973 and “Days of Heaven” in 1978 (both to critical acclaim), Terrence Malick just disappeared from Hollywood but after 20 years and the masterpiece that is “The Thin Red Line”, it’s a real pleasure to have him back.

Based on the WWII novel of the same name by James Jones, the story isn’t linear but more fragmented and focusing on particular soldiers in the division of ‘Charlie Company’ and the struggle throughout their attempt to gain land against the Japanese at the island of Guadalcanal in 1943.

There is no main character, rather a collection of them, with their own personal philosophical ponderings and monologues on life, death, god, creation and the cruelty of nature which reflects their own struggle during the war and the brutality they have been thrust into. As Sean Penn’s weary Sgt. says: “What difference d’you think you can make? One man in all this madness?”, or Jim Caviezal’s ethereal Pvt: “Maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of, all faces are the same man.” Even the likes of Gary Oldman, Viggo Mortensen and Mickey Rourke ended up on the cutting-room-floor and not getting a look-in with the impressive ensemble of actors. However, this is a film without any movie-stars, despite the names involved. John Travolta, John Cusack and George Clooney appear and disappear, reduced to mere cameo appearances and the likes of Adrian Brody and John C. Reilly hardly get a word to say. The cast alone shows the clout and attraction that Malick still has after being absent for decades. All these faces, among many others, coming and going all add to the confusion of war and several long, dialogue-free scenes, paint a dreamlike quality to the film. Malick is methodical in his direction but still very capable of handling explosive battle scenes and conveying the torture and terror of the soldiers’ suffering amongst the carnage, aided no end by John Toll’s gorgeous, visually striking cinematography.

This modern masterpiece was shamefully overlooked come award season and over-shadowed by “Saving Private Ryan” on it’s release – which is unfair, as they are very different films and this is just as good, if not better, than Spielberg’s take.

It’s a poetic war film, if that were ever possible. A rich, meditative and complete work of verbal and visual artistry. Simply superb.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker


Braveheart * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Biography, History, War with tags on January 18, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Mel Gibson.
Screenplay: Randall Wallace.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan, Brendan Gleeson, Sophie Marceau, Catherine McCormack, Angus MacFadyen, Ian Bannen, James Cosmo, David O’Hara, James Robinson, Sean McGinley, Sean Lawlor, Peter Hanly, Alun Armstrong, Gerard McSorley, Tommy Flanagan, David McKay, Peter Mullan, Brian Cox.

My being Scottish is probably not going to consist of the most accurate of reviews regarding this film but I will be totally straight up and admit that it is historical inaccurate on more than a few occasions. However, there’s no denying the spectacle and grand scale of the whole thing, harking back to epic films of the past.

13th century Scottish peasant William Wallace (Mel Gibson), who after the raping and pillaging of his village and the death of his wife by the English army, takes it upon himself to make a stand and fight back. He assembles an army of his own and refuses to succumb to the rule of King Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) inciting an uprising amongst the Scottish people against the tyranny and oppression of the English.

As mentioned earlier, there are several historical facts altered for dramatic effect but when the real history is looked into, I wonder why it was altered. William Wallace’s life needed no further exaggeration but then again it’s Hollywood we have on the battlefield here. Speaking of which, the battle scenes are brutally and violently depicted and expertly shot by Gibson. He takes us straight back to the harsh conditions and environment of the people at this time in history and manages to give depth to the characters involved, regardless of their screen time. McGoohan in particular is absolutley superb as the bitter and determined King Edward and despite a dodgy Scottish accent, Gibson equips himself well as Wallace. Wonderfully powerful music by James Horner also, not to mention some fine cinematography by John Toll.

An epic film that competes on every level with the best of the genre and the only reason I don’t give it five stars is incase my judgement has been clouded by Scottish bias.

Mark Walker


The Hurt Locker * * 1/2

Posted in Action, thriller, War with tags on January 17, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Kathryn Bigelow.
Screenplay: Mark Boal.
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes, Evangeline Lilly.

And the Academy award for best picture goes to…”The Hurt Locker.” Eh?…What? I must have missed something. I actually like Kathryn Bigelow’s action films “Point Break” and “Strange Days” and in a genre which is dominated by male directors she can certainly compete. However, this was a bit lacklustre compared to her earlier films and yet it was far better received – especially in terms of awards.

Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner) is a bomb disposal expert while on a tour of duty in Iraq. He is good at what he does and definitely has big enough cohones. Problem is…his cohones are too big. In fact, he’s an adrenaline junkie which continually puts him and his comrades in grave danger.

This is pretty much the gist of the story with a surprising amount of nothing inbetween. I’ll give credit where it’s due though as when the tension mounts it’s done masterfully by Bigelow and some scenes are genuinely thrilling and edge of your seat, with an excellent and edgy lead performance by Renner. However, there are very few of these moments and the film starts so well that it leaves it harder for the rest of the film to keep up. Despite Bigelow wisely taking little to no political stance on the war in Iraq I can only assume that all the Awards recognition this film recieved were in some way a form of western propaganda. I must admit about half way through it, I noticed a loud ticking noise. Turns out it wasn’t the bombs needing defused, but me clock watching.

Sporadically impressive but otherwise highly over-rated and quite dull.

Mark Walker