Hamburger Hill

Instead of trying to match the hallucinatory bombast of APOCALYPSE NOW, the surreal metaphysics of PLATOON, or the studied idiosyncrasy of FULL METAL JACKET, director John Irvin reaches back to such classic combat films as THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA and PORK CHOP HILL for his inspiration here. So straightforward as to be old-fashioned, HAMBURGER HILL becomes...read more

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Instead of trying to match the hallucinatory bombast of APOCALYPSE NOW, the surreal metaphysics of PLATOON, or the studied idiosyncrasy of FULL METAL JACKET, director John Irvin reaches back to such classic combat films as THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA and PORK CHOP HILL for his inspiration here. So straightforward as to be old-fashioned, HAMBURGER HILL becomes unique by virtue of its unwillingness to participate in the current cycle of war-as-philosophical-metaphor Vietnam films and instead goes for a more conventional approach.

Realistic almost to a fault, Irvin's film is an account of the Third Squad, First Platoon, Bravo Company of the 101st Airborne Division and its battle to secure Hill 937 in the Ashau Valley, Vietnam, 1969. Short on plot, the film derives its power from isolated moments: letters from home, chats,

arguments, visits to a brothel, and, of course, intense combat--all performed with vigor by an almost faceless ensemble of unknown actors spouting a nearly incomprehensible stream of GI lingo.

Shot in an unfussy, realistic manner by cinematographer Peter MacDonald, the visuals emphasize wide angles and deep focus, bombarding the senses without resorting to the kind of hallucinatory imagery found in most Vietnam films. The battle for the hill is exhausting to watch as the soldiers

struggle upwards in the mud, clinging to exposed roots, tree stumps, and each other in a desperate effort to advance. Irvin rarely allows a glimpse of the top of the hill, further preventing the viewer from thinking ahead, instead forcing him to concentrate on climbing the few feet visible before

him right along with the GIs.

Although it was underrated at the time of its release, time will eventually reveal that HAMBURGER HILL is one of the best and most realistic films made about the Vietnam War.

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