Hamburger Hll (1987): a movie review
Is Hamburger Hill the greatest Vietnam War Movie of All Time? Vote Now!
War at its worst, men at their best.
I’ve seen most of the Vietnam inspired films and without question, there are movies that are bigger budgeted. There are even Hollywood showpieces that probably say more about their makers’ political views than anything else.
Hamburger Hill is more along the lines of those excellent films that don’t get the glory like some of it more famous and more well-known Vietnam epics. It shows the grit, determination, and heroism of the little guy, the guy who must get out in the long grass with his rifle while the planners sit back in air-conditioned comfort many miles behind the front lines.
This point of view suits me just fine. It’s all well and good to peek over the general’s shoulder and share his grand design, but I often prefer to view war from the more personal perspective of the combat soldier.
An extremely effective use of this angle was recently seen in the hit film Black Hawk Down, and those of you who have seen this epic motion picture will know what to expect from Hamburger Hill – a film that illustrates the pointlessness of the Vietnam experience better than all the rest because it shows the GIs were fighting for their very lives against a determined enemy while doggedly trying to take Hill 937, a feature of absolutely no strategic or tactical significance, except to the planners back in the air-conditioned rear.
This true story depicts eleven assaults in ten days of May, 1969. Again and again the troops charge up the muddy hill only to be repulsed with heavy casualties – 70% by the time the job was done.
Much like the heroes who took Pork Chop Hill in the earlier Korean War, our heroes eventually took Hamburger Hill, only to abandon it on orders from above.
The director zeroes in on one infantry squad of the 101st Airborne Division. The main characters are the two sergeants, Stephen Weber and Dylan McDermott in charge of the squad. Some character development takes place early on with Doc (Courtney B. Vance) briefing the new troops on how to brush their teeth. You will brush your teeth using a rapid, vertical motion. That’s up and down to you rebels.
McDermott briefs the FNGs (Foolish New Guys) on the enemy. “Forget about that VC crap. He will be hunting you in the Ashau. If you meet him once you will give him respect and call him Nathaniel Victor. If you meet him twice and survive you will call him MISTER Nathaniel Victor.” The two sergeants are shown unwinding at the local brothel before heading out to the Ashau Valley to take the hill. Then the soldiers are off to the hill Further insights into the men’s character are shown during the lulls in the battle. But the battle is the real star of this picture.
The cast was all unknown at the time but included the aforementioned Dylan McDermott, who anchored the story with his presence. Stephen Weber, Courtney B. Vance, Don Cheadle, Michael Patrick Boatman, Tim Quill, and Don James make up most of the other speaking parts.