Hamburger Hill [1987]

Because it was released less than a year after Oliver Stone's Platoon and within months of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, this exceptionally well-made film about one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War was largely overshadowed and overlooked. It's a pity, because in some respects this is the best of the Vietnam films of the late 1980s, at least in terms of the everyday authenticity it depicts. Stripped clean of dramatically extraneous narrative, the movie opts instead for a straightforward approach to its day-by-day account of one of the war's costliest victories--a deadly siege on Hill 937 in the Ashau Valley, where soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division engaged the enemy over the course of eleven brutal assaults between May 10th and 20th, 1969. The film specifically follows the 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, a mixture of "new guys" and battle-weary "short-timers" who fought against terrifying odds and suffered a 70% casualty rate. From first scene to last, Hamburger Hill traces the rise and fall of their battle experience, from the horror of firefights to the camaraderie of men who've faced death and survived. Racial tensions flare and subside, trusts are established, and courage emerges from unexpected places. Through it all, writer Jim Carabatsos and director John Irvin maintain a purity of focus that pays tribute to the soldier's life without promoting false patriotism or gung-ho theatrics. In addition, the film features a cast full of talented and well-known actors in the early stages of their careers, including Dylan McDermott (from the TV series "The Practice") and Don Cheadle, before gaining fame in Devil in a Blue Dress and Boogie Nights. --Jeff Shannon

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