10 War Films That Broke All The Rules

Boring wars, trippy surreal nightmares, and Hitler-killing history changers...

The Deer Hunter Robert De Niro
Universal Pictures

The genre of war cinema has been around as long as the medium itself, with the spectacle of mass conflict lending itself to big budget movies and the inherent interpersonal tragedy fitting more intimate dramas.

However, with the development of a war film came an inevitable blueprint for so-called "successful" war movies, based on the most financially and critically rewarded examples of the genre. As a result soon after the deluge of post WWII triumphant adventure films, depictions of heroic soldiers and their daring pluck became commonplace and popular at the multiplex.

Then America invaded, or "liberated", Vietnam.

With the advent of broadcast television news came a flood of imagery civilian households had never seen before. Imagery, in the case of Vietnam, of soldiers still in their teens posing with corpses, devastated villages destroyed by napalm, and innumerable civilian casualties. As the public's support for the American occupation waned, war cinema responded with a flood of countercultural protest films which offered a dirtier, grittier, and altogether more realistic vision of war's reality.

Not every film listed here centres around Vietnam, but each in their own way serves as an embodiment of the filmmaking community's refusal to produce shallow pro-war propaganda, and instead break the rules of the genre to show a truer vision of the world at war.

10. Casualties of War

The Deer Hunter Robert De Niro
Columbia Pictures

Starting out with the strong stuff, 1989's Casualties of War is a rare American war drama which breaks a cardinal, unspoken rule of the genre which even Apocalypse Now's Francis Ford Coppola and Full Metal Jacket's Stanley Kubrick didn't explicitly broach.

Although there is one, lone morally upright American character horrified by the actions of his heartless colleagues, the film depicts American soldiers not as clueless kids drafted into a war they weren't ready for, nor as plucky heroes fighting for what's right.

Centring around the true story of a squad of US soldiers who kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered an innocent Vietnamese civilian "to boost morale", this movie, along with De Palma's later 2007 film Redacted, portrays these soldiers as the unambiguously amoral villains of their story.

A war film which refuses to centre the soldier as its hero and audience insertion persona, the film instead forces the viewer to empathize with the Vietnamese and question America's presence in the country as embodied by Sean Penn's extraordinary, hypnotically horrifying turn as the squad's Sergeant.


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