Linklater gets the draft...
from Milton Keynes
, 11 Oct 2010
Im gonna put it right out on front street that I had unrealistically high expectations of this movie. You see, although I was eight years old when this film was came out in the cinema by the time it then got a rental release I was just about old enough for it to have a trailer on some of my favourite videos.
I know I watched the trailer over and over again as a kid and remember being entranced at the helicopters thundering over the hills to the sound of The Animals and by the iconic cover image of the lone soldier standing against the setting sun. This is a film that I spent a lot of my youth desperate to see but never quite able to convince anyone to rent. You can add to that all of the comments and reviews calling it a forgotten classic or an undiscovered gem: if you look you can even find people wholl tell you that its superior to Full Metal Jacket!
So as a thirty-one year old I went and added it to my list in a fit of nostalgia and have to say that I was more than a little disappointed. Not disappointed in the same way as some people were about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but disappointed nonetheless.
Expectations to one side, what I found when finally watching this film was more similar in tone (certainly right up until they board the helicopters and the sporadically during the battle sequences) with Richard Linklaters Slacker than Platoon or Full Metal Jacket. The camera moves around a compound, dropping in and out of bursts of conversations that dont really tell us much about any of the characters or the situations that theyre in.
Sure, tempers fray and bonds are made. Absolutely the hardened and battle-weary leader is worn down by the responsibility of trying to keep young men away from their almost certain deaths. And yeah, why not focus on the downtime of the soldiers in the bars and brothels near the base camp
in fact this becomes an almost worrying preoccupation during the early stages of the film, but nothing at all happens that gives you any insight into anything whatsoever.
I know that theres all kind of justification out there for this as being the directors stylistic choice, to pare down the narrative to a bare minimum and strip away a lot of the structure put on top of most battle movies to give a more natural and gritty depiction of men at war but at the end of the day what it achieves most of all is to lay out an overly big cast of characters that you struggle to care about and arent in anyway invested in.
Why do I care when I see them all get killed one by one on the side of a mud soaked Vietnamese hill? Because they fleetingly mentioned wanting a Pontiac? Because they helped one soldier on the verge of a return home stay grounded in his expectations while expressing a dislike towards country music? Because I saw him feeding a puppy? No. The film does nothing but the bare bones to set people up and then have them killed without making you care or ponder on the senseless loss of human life even once.
The stand out performance comes from Courtney B. Vance as Doc who does most to bring some reality and characterization to his scenes but otherwise this is a film that resolutely fails to deliver. Not just as a war film, even Slacker hooked you into a conversation and make you wonder where the story would go if you just stayed with them, Hamburger Hill barely gives you a single character who you feel could rescue the story if it would only give more focus to them.
Seeing the film hasnt ruined the memory from my childhood, but its certainly something I could have happily lived out the rest of my life without seeing.
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