Remembrance Day Movies

Since I’ll be away at Hal-Con this weekend, I decided to replace this week’s in depth movie review with an overview of films you might want to watch for Remembrance Day.

For most people, Remembrance Day means wearing a poppy on their coat for a week or so, and maybe even going to a ceremony. It’s rote. It’s what they’re supposed to do, at least on the surface. But you’re still missing the point unless you’re really thinking about and appreciating our soldiers, sailors and air men/women. If you don’t find that speeches and documentaries have really helped you understand what our military men and women have and are going through on our behalf, these movies may help. They’re fictitious, but they’re all based on true stories and they have that sense of immediacy that documentaries lack.

I’ve endeavored to include a broad spectrum of viewpoints and experiences, not just US Army ones, so please don’t message me asking where Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down are.


Conflict: World War I
Militaries featured: USA, France, Germany
Starring: James Franco, Jean Reno

The pilots of Lafayette Squadron, made up of Americans who have volunteered to defend France, face off in biplanes against the Germans.

I know I put this movie on just about every list I make, but it really is that awesome. I personally scoffed at biplanes before I saw this movie, seeing them (and their pilots) as somehow less than their comrades from World War II and later. But the shoddiness of their planes just made them that much more impressive as pilots and as people, because they faced down the danger anyway. This movie has a little of everything – friendship, love, friction between allies, being slapped in the face by reality, and even racism. Lafayette Squadron was real, and Martin Henderson’s character is loosely based on a real pilot named Raoul Lufbery.

Buy Flyboys on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Conflict: World War I
Militaries featured: Australia, Britain, Turkey
Starring: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee

Two men travel across Australia to find a recruiter who will take them, only to find themselves caught up in the slaughter at Gallipoli.

With no First World War veterans left to talk to and the fact that they had a tenancy to clam up about what they experienced anyway, we have to turn to movies like this one to help us understand. The two main characters in the film are invented, but the screenplay was adapted from a book called “The Broken Years” which incorporated diary entries from over 1,000 soldiers. There are a few inaccuracies regarding role of the British, but the core of the film is the friendship between the two men and their fish-out-of-water experiences as they find their adventurous dreams shattered by the reality of war.

Buy Gallipoli on DVD.


Conflict: World War II
Countries featured: Russia, Germany
Starring: Jude Law, Rachel Weiss

A Russian hunter, forcibly drafted into the army and shoved into the morass at Stalingrad, finds that his ongoing sniper battle with his German opposite is galvanizing the rest of the troops.

When we honor soldiers, we should remember those not just from our own country, but also their allies. The Russian contribution to the defeat of the Nazis tends to be overlooked because of the Cold War and the the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact. But that doesn’t change the face that millions of ordinary Russians died and that their tenacity was the fulcrum that turned the tide of the war. I love this movie because it made in the West and honors Russians, and also because it highlights the combat contributions of women and children as well as men. The film is based on the real life of Vassili Zaitsev, who was a Hero of the Soviet Union.

Buy Enemy at the Gates on DVD or on Blu-Ray


Conflict: Post World War II
Militaries featured: USA
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert DeNiro

An African-American farmer struggles against racism, prejudice, and a disability in his quest to become a Master Diver in the United States Navy.

This movie is important for a number of reasons. It sheds light on the military’s rocky climb out of institutionalized racism and the bravery of the people who dared to change the status quo. It features some of the important and dangerous tasks that military servicepeople undertake during peacetime, and it showcases the achievements of a veteran who sustained a grievous injury – an amputated leg – when many people would have assumed that his life and career were over. The diver featured in the film, Carl Brashear, was a real person who now has a ship named after him.

Buy Men of Honor on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Conflict: Cold War
Militaries featured: USA, Russia
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery

A CIA intelligence analyst is dispatched aboard a submarine to help them hunt down an experimental Russian nuclear submarine stolen by a rogue Captain.

I know, I know, it’s based on a Tom Clancy novel, but that guy does a LOT of research for his books. The novel was based on two separate real submarine incidents from 1968 and 1975 and was actually published by the U.S. Naval Institute. This is a good movie to watch for two reasons: not only does it illuminate the shadowy world of intelligence work and how real life spies often protect us without us ever finding out about it, but it also helps people who were born after the Cold War to understand how tense and scary that period was, especially for military servicepeople.

Buy The Hunt for Red October on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Conflict: Vietnam War
Militaries featured: USA, South Vietnam, North Vietnam,
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn

A German-American fighter pilot, shot down on a mission over Laos, struggles to survive in the inhuman conditions of a prisoner of war camp.

I’ll warn you right now – Rescue Dawn is very disturbing, but there’s really no other way to portray the POW experience, especially during the Vietnam War. There are thousands of veterans still dealing with the things they experienced in Vietnam or as prisoners of their enemies, and this movie can help you understand why. It is based on the real life experiences of Dieter Dengler, and there was such a desire by director Werner Herzog and the crew get things right with this film that the lead actors all lost between 35 and 55 pounds and read psychological studies on the effects of deprivation on prisoners.

Buy Rescue Dawn on DVD or on Blu-Ray.


Conflict: Peacetime
Militaries featured: USA
Starring: Glenn Close, Judy Davis

A decorated nurse fights her forcible discharge from the Army after admitting that she is a lesbian during a security clearance interview.

This movie is a perfect example of how supporting the troops doesn’t always mean blindly supporting all of the military’s policies and decisions. Sometimes people who have given their all on behalf of their country are shortchanged or discriminated against by unfair policies because of their physical condition, mental state, race, religion, or sexuality, and that’s not right. Watching this movie will help you realize that it takes a brave person to stand up and say so, and it is up to us, as civilians, to honor and support these people. This movie is based on the real life and experiences of Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer.

Buy Serving in Silence on DVD.


Conflict: UN Peacekeeping Mission to Rwanda
Militaries featured: Canada, Belgium, Nigeria, Rwanda
Starring: Roy Dupris, James Gallanders

The Canadian General in charge of the peacekeeping mission to Rwanda struggles to find a way to stop the genocide without disobeying his orders not to interfere.

In action movies, soldiers who believe their orders are wrong can simply follow their hearts, but that’s just not how things work in real life. Soldiers are trained to obey, so when violence breaks out, they are often forced by the rule of law and their own training to do the most difficult thing of all: nothing. This can have a particularly bad effect on their mental state, as this movie shows. It is based on the autobiography chronicling the real life experiences of General Romeo Dallaire who is now a prominent humanitarian despite his continued struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Buy Shake Hands With the Devil on DVD


Conflict: War on Terror
Militaries featured: USA, Saudi Arabia, terrorists
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Ashraf Barhom

A team of FBI agents are sent to Saudi Arabia to assist in the investigation of the bombing of an American compound.

This movie is only loosely based on two real life bombings (in Riyadh and Khobar Towers), but it’s one of the best modern war movies I’ve seen because it highlights how different war has become since 9/11, with enemies becoming increasingly disconnected from any particular country and organizations other than the military (such as the FBI) playing a larger roles. Since it portrays events not just from the American perspective but also from the perspective of the Saudis and even the terrorists themselves, it also provides insight into the self-perpetuating nature of these types of conflicts and how they affect those who get drawn into them.

Buy The Kingdom on DVD or on Blu-Ray

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