Originally a Southern event designated to honor Confederate veterans of the Civil War, Memorial Day went on to become a nationally recognized holiday in the United States, which now honors all American veterans. While today the true meaning of the holiday is too often lost amidst the barbeques, beach days, and block parties that it has since become associated with, it remains at its heart a commemoration of the bravery and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Below are three films that celebrate and honor America’s men and women in arms and all that they stand for.
|Kiss this man's feet!|
PATTON: Part biography and part war epic, 1970’s Patton remains an invigorating mix of the best of both genres. The film covers the years that General George S. Patton (George C Scott) spent as one of the nation’s most skilled and controversial military leaders in WWII. Throughout the film, Scott captures Patton’s brilliance and insatiable drive with equal skill, and brings the colorful and complex general to life. While lauded as one of the nation’s most successful military leaders, Patton’s career was fraught with controversy as he alienated allied leaders whom he regarded as professional rivals, and continually disobeyed Washington’s orders. The film successfully makes him a by turns frustrating and inspiring, but always fascinating character and does full justice to his complicated life and career. The film portrays the war with the same nuance that it affords its protagonist by highlighting both the animosity that existed between the allies and the political machinations that divided the war effort. The supporting cast turns in uniformly excellent performances with particularly notable turns from Karl Malden as Patton’s beleaguered right-hand man, Major General Omar Bradley, and Michael Bates as his greatest rival, smug British general Bernard Montgomery. The film’s opening sequence featuring Patton delivering a passionate speech to his troops in front of a massive American flag remains nothing short of iconic, even today, and its message of resilience continues to resonate. While the film closes with the observation that ‘all glory is fleeting’ Patton remains an example of cinema at its most glorious.
|Houdini's got nothing on these guys|
THE GREAT ESCAPE: Based upon another true story from WWII, 1963’s The Great Escape chronicles the mass escape from German prison camp Stalag Luft III in 1943. The film begins with the SS moving its most skilled and determined prisoners of war to a high security prison in hopes of preventing their escape. What the SS fails to account for is the fact that by placing so many ‘escape artists’ in one facility they have in fact made continued, and even more sophisticated, escape plans inevitable. The film then follows the diverse group of allied prisoners as they overcome their many differences and forge a plan for the ultimate escape. While the plot of the film follows a familiar pattern, the fact-based fate of the famed fifty escapees remains tragically poignant. Similarly the prisoners’ efforts to obtain freedom not only for themselves, but also for each of their comrades, remain an inspiring testament to the power of teamwork and camaraderie in the face even the greatest of adversity. The film’s ensemble cast brilliantly brings the story of the fifty to life with standout performances from Steve McQueen as American loner Capt. Virgil Hilts, whose repeated stays in solitary confinement earn him the nickname ‘cooler king’ and Richard Attenborough as RAF squadron leader Roger Bartlett, whose leadership earns him the codename ‘big x’. The film’s chase scene featuring McQueen attempting to elude the SS on a motorcycle and its signature tune continue to be imitated and parodied, but have yet to be equaled. For a truly great war film, look no further than The Great Escape.
|And you thought he was strictly a comic actor|
BEHIND ENEMY LINES: This action-packed true-story explores the United States’ involvement in the Bosnian War of the 1990’s, a conflict that is largely ignored by Hollywood. The film begins with US naval Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) contemplating returning to civilian life after becoming disillusioned with the military and the political bureaucracy that has ordered the military to remain largely neutral in Bosnia. Later, however, Burnett is given the chance to take matters into his own hands when he captures evidence of the atrocities that are being committed by the Bosnian-Serb army. Before he can turn the crucial evidence over to his superiors, however, his plane is shot down and crash lands in Bosnia. He then witnesses the execution of his co-pilot at the hands of the Bosnian-Serb army and is forced on the run after narrowly escaping with his life. The film then chronicles his journey of survival through enemy territory as he struggles to return home and expose the genocide that he has discovered. While the film takes liberties with the facts of the Mkronjic Grad Incident, which its plot is based upon, it does succeed in bringing attention to a conflict that is often misunderstood. The film also succeeds in providing insight into the ways that political and military agendas can contradict and come into conflict with one another even as both struggle to reach a solution that is best for the country. For an action-packed look at modern warfare, take a journey Behind Enemy Lines.