War films have a central position in film history, and not least in American film. Already during the First World War, many popular films were made in the United States about the ongoing war. During World War II, which by a good margin must be the war that has most often been portrayed on film, hardly a film was made in the country that could not be related to these events – and which portrayed the United States in a heroic light.
Hero depictions from second World War is also a constant source of audience success for Norwegian film producers, and it will be exciting to see if the upcoming film is based on Marte Michelet's more revisionist book The biggest crime will fill the cinemas here at home.
Anti-war films about Vietnam
Not least has Vietnam War made a name for itself in feature film contexts, with classics such as Hjortejegeren, Coming Home, Apokalypse nå!, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War, Platoon og Born July XNUMXth. The fictional films have almost defined how we imagine this war, with an invisible but close enemy in the jungle, young and nervous soldiers smoking marijuana and the sound of helicopters, volleys and sixties American rock artists.
Common to these films, however, is that they were made after the war was over and lost to the United States, and they also often convey a negative view of American warfare. Somewhat simplified, one can say that where World War II with its "simple" narrative of good and evil (including a very clear enemy image) has spawned an endless series of stories of decisive battles and admirable heroism, the Vietnam War has been the starting point for the subgenre anti-war film.
Crimes committed by the soldiers
It is not as easy to see commonalities in the films that have been made about the later wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Iraq war in the twentieth century, however, there was a certain tendency among Hollywood films to direct strong criticism at the US involvement in these countries. Both In the Valley of Elah og Lions for Lambs from 2007 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, were rather directly system-critical. The former film also depicted crimes committed by American soldiers, like Brian De Palmas Redacted the year after.
At the same time, many of the films concentrated on the soldiers' experiences and reactions, without taking a clear stand on the war (s) per se. Stop-Loss from 2008 depicted, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder in a returned soldier from Iraq, while the Oscar winner T from the same year was about the adrenaline-fueled work of specially trained soldiers who disarm bombs during the same war.
That Iraqis and Afghans in these films are often reduced to villains or extras is perhaps not so surprising. The films about the Vietnam War have also to a small extent been about Vietnamese, whether they are on one side or the other of the warring parties.
Several of the feature films from the later wars have achieved disappointing attendance figures, which may be related to the fact that the armed conflicts in which American soldiers were constantly involved. The Vietnam movies – in addition to the fact that there was a far more widespread dissatisfaction with this war among the people of the United States.
Turning towards hero portrayals
If one is to try a generalization about the American films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it must be that many of them want to show support for the troops, without necessarily supporting the warfare on a more structural level. However, these two thoughts are not always as easy to keep in mind in one and the same feature film, something the premiere current The Outpost showing signs of. In addition, it is an example that these films have taken a turn towards more pure depictions of individual soldiers or troops' heroic exploits, similar to Lone Survivor from 2013 and Clint Eastwoods American Sniper the following year (about soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively).
Rod Lury's feature film is based on the documentary The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper, and as the subtitle reveals, it will largely be about bravery in conflict. The Outpost tells of a group of American soldiers stationed in a camp between three mountain peaks near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. Their position is so vulnerable that it is almost officially stated that they will probably lose their lives – and eventually they will be the target of a comprehensive attack by the Taliban. The film describes how US soldiers still win the battle of Kamdesh, which is reportedly known as the bloodiest of the Afghanistan war.
Drowns out the criticism
As war movies are The Outpost so absolutely well made. It gives an intense rendition of this kind, with a far greater sense of authenticity than, for example, the overly patriotic, previously mentioned Lone Survivor. Nor will I dispute the heroism of these men, who are probably in a position to pay tribute. The troop then also ended up becoming one of the most decorated American units in this war.
Nevertheless, this focus makes the film lose sight of its initial critique of placing soldiers in such a position – or at all in this country. The film's central battle is set against a backdrop of the soldiers strictly speaking having no clear mission or any clear function. But this aspect is quickly drowned out by the director's desire to praise their individual achievements, and the hopeless starting point is mainly a dramaturgical emphasis on this outstanding effort against all odds. Thus, The Outpost first and foremost an exponent of the war film as action movie, where the basis of the story in real events helps to make it more exciting and engaging for the audience.
Directors, screenwriters and producers are often drawn to stories of bravery and heroism. The feature film medium is undeniably well-suited for telling this kind of story, not least about actual heroic feats from real wars. But feature films can of course also be used to illuminate more criticisable aspects of these conflicts – of which there are not a few. For the wars in Iraq og Afghanistan For its part, however, it may seem that American filmmakers fired off this gunpowder a little too soon.
The Outpost has its Norwegian cinema premiere on Friday 17 July.