Published on October 15th, 2008 | by Chris1
Hamburger Hill (1987)
In May, 1969, Airborne troops were tasked with the awful duty of taking a hill from the North Vietnamese, in a battle which would become known as "Hamburger Hill" and documented in a book by Samuel Zaffiri, and then on film in this 1987 picture.
I hadn't seen Hamburger Hill in a long, long, time. And for some reason, the last time I did I remembered not liking it very well. Well, this time was very different. Maybe age and experience, maybe the myriad of pictures I've seen here have put some things into perspective, but Hamburger Hill is really quite the Vietnam epic.
This film takes the typical Vietnam experience that you've seen before in pictures like "Platoon" and "We Were Soldiers", and amplifies it signifcantly. From the mud, muck, and filth that our heroes live in back at the base, to the near endless death and destruction on the hill. You *will* come away from this with that "sunk" feeling, as you realize how futile all of it is.
The only real problem I think is that it takes itself a bit too serious at times. Even in the "lighter" moments it wields a heavy hand. Maybe "problem" isn't the right word. If you've seen it, you probably know the feeling I'm trying to describe.
Not only does Hamburger Hill succeed at presenting its message, but also spends a great deal of time on the issue of race in the military of the Vietnam era. And surprisingly does it without coming off as "preachy" for lack of a better word. You've got the seemingly out of place doctor, "Doc" Johnson (Courtney B. Vance) who seems to be a liaison of sorts between the black and white elements of the squad. But it becomes clear by the end that despite all the rhetoric and discussion of race, it just doesn't matter.
But, as is the case, you've got the usual Vietnam cliches to deal with. The somewhat forced friendly-fire incident, the out-of-touch officer corps, the above mentioned racial tensions, the blood and guts, the punji stick traps.... You sort of have to expect it I suppose.
Dylan McDermott and a young Don Cheadle are excellent in their roles. Far better than I had remembered. But again, that spectre of 'seriousness' seems to affect everyone in their portrayals. Like the director was shouting out 'remember, you're *not* enjoying this' or something.
One particular element of the film that I do remember, and still think reverberates as an overarching theme, is the destruction of Hamburger Hill itself. At the beginning it appears as a lush, green thing of beauty. But by the end is laid waste into a burnt and broken, smokey, desperate wasteland. Somewhat like the guys who left there alive.