Saturday, July 31, 2021

6 Days (2017)


                    “6 Days” is an action thriller.  It covers the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London.  It claims to be “based on real events”.  It was directed by Toa Fraser and was a joint United Kingdom / New Zealand production.  The film focuses on four tracks.  Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish) represents the media coverage.  Max Vernon (Mark Strong) is the negotiator.  Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell) leads the SAS team.  Fremin served as technical adviser on the film.  And we have the table scenes involving the politicians.  Pretty standard stuff.  It is reminiscent of all the movies about the Entebbe Raid.

                    The movie begins with news footage of terrorist activities and specifically hones in on the Iranian Hostage Crisis (which was ongoing) and the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.  On April 30, 1980, six Arab men storm into the Iranian Embassy through the front door.  They easily take  the embassy personnel and several visitors captive.  A BBC reporter named Kate Adie happens to be on the scene outside at the time and begins the news coverage.  Meanwhile, an SAS team is conducting a typical hostage rescue practice which does not end well.  This is a standard cliché to suggest to the audience the possibility of an unhappy ending to the film.  Of course, if you are an informed Brit, you know the outcome already.  While the SAS team prepares for a real hostage rescue mission, Max Vernon negotiates with the head hostage taker.  Salim is a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Front which is working to end Iranian oppression of its southern province Arabistan.  He demands that the British government force the Iranian government to release 91 political prisoners or else they will start killing the hostages.  Vernon does not have to work very hard as Salim continues to push back his deadline for executing hostages and even releases two without any concessions from the British government, other than they are working on it.  The Thatcher government decides to play hard ball which will come as no surprise to Maggie fans.  However, since she was new to the office, it was not guaranteed that she would refuse to negotiate.  Actually, Salim would not have known what an Iron Lady he would be dealing with, but he should have been smart enough to realize Iran would not release 91 prisoners just because Great Britain asked it to.  He comes off as rather naïve.  Adie comes off as a reporter knowing she can ride this to stardom.  Firmin and his mates come off as hoping the negotiations will fall through.  And Vernon comes off as hoping to avoid bloodshed.  He is almost as naïve as Salim.  Even if you are not an informed Brit, you know where this is leading.  The only question is how gonzo it will be.

                    The movie plays out like a docudrama.  It is sectioned off into the six days.  It adheres to the facts by avoiding the bombast of most action films.  The generic action movie music reminds us its not a documentary.  The acting is restrained.  There are no Rambos on the SAS team.  There is also no dysfunction or soap opera elements.  It is not a SEAL movie or an episode of “SEAL Team” in that respect.  Until you get to the raid itself.  That’s where you can’t tell it from others in the subgenre.  The movie clocks in at about 1 ½ hours so there is little time for character development.  No one gets a back-story.  Rusty is not in need of redemption for losing men in a previous mission.  Vernon did not lose hostages in a previous incident.  Salim is the only terrorist that is fleshed out a bit.  Their Arabic is not subtitled, so we can’t even tell what they are saying.  An interesting decision by director Toa Fraser which works in building a bit of tension as to what will happen.  Other than policeman Trevor Lock, none of the hostages is given any coverage.  Lock’s arc is a strong indicator that the movie is faithful to the facts.  How else to explain the inexplicable decision of the terrorists to not search him for a gun.  Or Salim allowing him to talk to Vernon.  If these things happened, Salim and his gang were pretty incompetent.  As far as the acting, Bell and Strong are solid in a movie that pushes their characters to the front.  Surprisingly, the movie portends a major role for Cornish, but her reporter is given little to do.  This is a guy movie.  But not a movie for combat porn addicts.

                    “6 Days” is the kind of movie that can’t be fairly judged without researching the actual incident.  If it took a lot of artistic license, then you would have to say it did not go far enough because it does not keep you on the edge of your seat.  If historically accurate, you can forgive the lack of adrenaline.  Well, it turns out the movie is very accurate.  In fact, it is being modest with the claim “based on real events.”  They should have gone with “this is a true story, seriously.”  I could find no major diversions from the actual event.  There are little changes like the killing of the terrorist who had blended in with the rescued hostages.  He was actually recognized and shoved down the stairs where two other commandoes shot him.  Also, for some reason, the movie does not depict the killing of one hostage and the wounding of two when the male hostage room was stormed.  All of the head-scratching moments did occur.  One of the SAS men did get hung up on his rope and suffered burns.  Lock was left with his gun, although the movie does not show that he was frisked without it being found.  There is a brief allusion to him avoiding food to keep from having to go to the bathroom where he feared the captor would see the gun.  I guess we were supposed to know that.  Oh, and Salim was actually Oan Ali Mohammed who was apparently just as naïve as his cinematic Salim.

                    In these days of avoiding theaters, if you are looking for an historical action movie, you could do worse than “6 Days”.  It is the opposite of “Extraction”, but that does not mean it’s not entertaining.  Just keep reminding yourself that what you are watching is the real deal, so don’t be upset when Firmin does not suffer a scratch and the bad guys are easily killed.  If you insist on accuracy in your history movies, you'll like it. If you could care less about accuracy and just want to wallow in action, skip it.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Michael Bay and Randall Wallace Think You Are a Moron


Michael Bay directed and Randall Wallace wrote “Pearl Harbor”.  Bay is famous for his brainless action films and Wallace wrote the historical atrocity “Braveheart”, so what could go wrong?  Nothing, if you don’t mind having your intelligence insulted.  Here are some of my favorite “fuck you, intellectuals” moments from the film.  I am not talking about historical inaccuracies (although some fall into that category), I am talking about moments that any intelligent person should say WTF! 

1.  Rafe and Danny are getting physicals, but Rafe mentions he does not want to lose his wings.  Does Wallace think you get your physical AFTER you become a pilot?

2.  Rafe volunteers for the Eagle Squadron, but he does not tell his best buddy that he is applying.  They did not have a conversation with Rafe saying, “hey buddy, I’ve got a great idea”.  Later, Danny tells Evelyn that Rafe lied to him and said he had been “assigned” to the Eagle Squadron.  Danny would have known that the Eagle Squadron was purely a volunteer organization. 

3.  Rafe’s plane crashes into the English Channel in broad daylight, he escapes after dark.

4.  Rafe is rescued that day (or the next) and yet in three months he finds no way to let Evelyn know he is alive.  If he wants to surprise her, he is one colossal asshole. 

5.  Speaking of which, did Bay and Wallace expect us to think the main star is dead early in the movie?

6.  Some of the Japanese planes do flyovers before attacking.

7.  Torpedo bombers fly around without dropping their torpedoes.  Some fly over airfields.  At least, they don’t drop a torpedo on an air strip. 

8.  Japanese planes fly between ships taking fire from both sides and not being able to shoot back. 

9.  Sarge fires 11 shells from a shot gun without reloading.

10.  Sarge uses a walkie-talkie to talk to Rafe as he flies against the Japanese.  That's impossible. This allows Rafe to tell Sarge and the others to get in a tower so he can maneuver Jap pursuers into the sights of Sarge’s shot gun. 

11.  Two fighter pilots suddenly become bomber pilots with no training.  But wait, they bring their buddies with them. 

12.  Evelyn goes to a communications center where they are able to listen to the cockpit chatter from the Doolittle Raid.  Impossible. 

13.  Rafe and Danny crash in broad daylight, but moments later, it’s night.

14.  Their Japanese captors suddenly produce a yoke to put on Danny’s shoulders.  Oh so subtle reference to Jesus Christ.  Coincidentally, that is the name I yelled when I watched that scene.

15.  When they return to Pearl Harbor, Evelyn has not been told that Danny is dead.  Thank goodness Evelyn loves surprises!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Unknown Soldier (2017)


                “The Unknown Soldier” is considered to be the greatest Finnish war movie.  Directed by Aku Louhimies, it is the most successful Finnish movie of the 21st Century and the most expensive Finnish film ever.  The movie is based on a famous novel by Vaino Linna and it is the third version of the book.  The production used over 3,000 extras, some provided by the Finnish Defence Forces.  The main actors were put through a boot camp to learn wilderness skills, how to cross-country ski, and how to stay warm in the winter.

                The movie covers a small unit of Finnish soldiers in the Continuation War (1941-44).  It opens with an intriguing scene.  Two boys are swimming in a river and this morphs into the same two being shot at as their unit retreats across the river.  One of them is killed.  Their machine gun unit was originally deployed in Eastern Finland in June, 1941.  The government lies to them and proclaims that they are defending their homeland from another (the Winter War had ended fifteen months earlier) attack by the Soviet Army.  Their first action is in northern Karelia in July.  They attack and immediately go to ground due to Russian fire.  Their captain arrives and leads a charge, but is cut down.  This will be the first of many unpredictable deaths.  The men respond and capture the hill.  The combat is brief, but realistic.  From here, the movie settles into a pattern of rest and exposition followed by combat.  In the quieter scenes, several characters are developed typical of a small unit movie.  There is the noble officer who grows into the job, the black marketeer who is in it for the loot, the psychopath, the jokester, the innocent private, etc.  The main character is Corporal Rokka (Eero Aho) who is a veteran of the Winter War.  He has to leave his farm family to bring some experience to the unit.  He is cynical and does not like discipline.  He also is a damned good soldier who knows more than the officers.  The movie follows these men as they campaign into the Soviet Union and back again.  Occasionally we are told where they are so we know where the deaths occur.  The movie fits squarely into the “who will survive?” subgenre.  You don’t have to be a WWII nerd to figure their initial successes are going to turn around so we can come full circle to that opening river crossing scene.    

                The Swedish members of my War Movie Lovers Face Book group have been encouraging me to watch this movie for some time.  I didn’t need much convincing since I am a big fan of foreign war films.  I love Korean, Russian, and Japanese war movies, in particular.  The only other Finnish war movie I had seen was “Talvisota”.  This is better.  The acting is excellent, especially Aho.  He created one of my favorite war movie characters – Antti Rokka.  If you like Sgt. Steiner from “Cross of Iron”, you’ll like him too.  When asked who he is, he responds: “I’m a model for the gun industry.”  He defies authority (and gets away with it) more than most anti-heroes.  He is the most distinct character, but the others leave their mark as well.  It’s an ensemble effort.  They portray the soldiers realistically as only the higher officers are gung-ho.  Their dialogue is not flowery and is a bit terse as the movie does not have much banter.  It focuses on the common soldiers and the effects of war on them.           

                  The movie is firmly anti-war, but not through graphic wounds and deaths.  It’s hard core enough to get the point across, however.  The combat is superior to most modern war movies.  It starts with brief scenes and gradually the scenes get longer.  Most of the action occurs in forests and hand-held cameras put us with the men.  We know most of the men are not going to survive four years of it, but still the deaths are shocking in their unpredictability.  There is little on the home front (although Rokka makes a couple of trips home to see his resilient wife – a character that does not appear in the book) and the movie is not interested in giving a big picture view of the war.  The enemy is faceless and we get little on command decisions.  There is also nothing about the German role.  I would assume the Finnish audience did not need these things.  The movie is not big on strategy, but is strong on tactics.  Their actions in combat ring true.  They throw grenades and then charge, for instance.  They flank their enemy.   The movie realistically depicts trench warfare. 

                A non-Finnish viewer won’t learn much about the war besides its effects on typical soldiers.  What you will learn is the Finnish army was not a typical army.  One theme is the army was not big on discipline.  At one point, they abandon a position against orders to hold at all costs.  Rokka sums it up:  “We ain’t here to die; we’re here to kill.”  Another theme is while morale may seep away, the men remain resilient.  They sing a lot.    Although not propagandistic, the movie was meant to honor the Finnish soldiers who fought in the war, but not mythologize them. When outnumbered or outflanked, they run.  There is little indication that they were being used a pawns for their jingoistic and vengeance-minded government and by their Nazi “allies”.

                Don’t watch it as a history lesson, although there was nothing I saw that was off-kilter.  Watch it because it is very entertaining and you’ll learn that Finland fought in WWII, albeit for the wrong side.  And their soldiers may have been allied with the Wehrmacht, but they were just regular Joosefs.