I like war films. Maybe it’s a male thing. Maybe it’s because my father was a military officer who served in World War Two. Who knows, but I viewed three of my favorite war films the other day and noticed that they all echoed and reflected the sensibilities and styles of their times. Three generations of war. Three generations of war films and three generations of filmmakers. They also illustrate the evolution of the war film.
PATTON (1970) / PLATOON (1986) / LEBANON (2009)
You can see a montage of those films below.
The first is PATTON (1970). PATTON is about the good war, the just war. It was a studio picture, large budget for the times. The battle scenes are large and expansive reflecting the hero, the protagonist General Patton place in this world. It is a bio pic, centering on Patton’s World War Two years. PATTON was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. He also directed the original PLANET OF THE APES as well as PAPILLON. It won a lot of awards including seven Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Sound and Best Editing.
The second one is PLATOON (1986). PLATOON is not about the good war. It’s about the foolish war, the destructive war. How war takes it’s toll on the soldier who fights because he must. It takes place on a smaller battlefield and it’s protagonist is a reluctant hero. His journey or arc is from a naïve young man to a hardened weary soldier and we see the Vietnam War through his eyes. PLATOON was written and directed by three time Oscar winner Oliver Stone who’s credits include BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, SALVADOR and WALL STREET. PLATOON was not a studio picture, but an indie film that struggled to raise the money needed to film. It was made for six million dollars, grossing 153 million worldwide. PLATOON won many accolades including four Oscars for Picture, Directing, Sound Design and Editing.
The last one is LEBANON (2009). LEBANON is also about the futility of war, but takes the mise-en-scene one step further by not just putting us deep in the jungle of Vietnam, but traps us inside an Israeli tank for nearly the entire movie. We can only see the horrific world outside the way the tank crew sees the world. This tense war film focuses on a group of Israeli soldiers operating a tank in during the 1982 conflict in Lebanon. The 1982 invasion of Lebanon has been termed “Israel’s Vietnam”. LEBANON was written and directed by Samuel Maoz. The film won the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, but was not nominated for Best Foreign Picture by the Academy which is stunning to me.
Here’s the montage from those films in chronological order.
So did you notice that the visual construction is through protagonists POV? In PATTON, Gen. Patton views everything from afar. He’s the overseer of this war. He’s at the top so the shots are often wide. In PLATOON, Chris is as I mentioned, is the reluctant hero. He volunteered to go to war and then realizes the futility of this war. His POV is often medium shots, his view of what’s happening around him, what he is taking in. And in LEBANON, not a single man in that tank wants to be there and they are see the war through the lens of the gun sights. It’s claustrophobic, yet very intimate with the people they are looking and shooting at.
Three generations of war films and three generations of filmmakers. All reflecting the times and their own views of war.