The Moviegoer’s Cinematic Salute

The Vietnam War
© Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

Need ideas for a Memorial Day movie marathon? We’ve got you covered

Shops may be open, but the CDC recommends maintaining social distancing and wearing masks when in crowds. This could put a damper on your traditional Memorial Day plans.  

If you’d like to safely salute the troops, consider a movie marathon that celebrates the sacrifices made by those who served.  

Hulu: The Patriot  

After seeing too much bloodshed in the French-Indian War, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) swore to be a peaceful man. Though he sympathizes with his fellow colonials, he’s reluctant to join the Revolutionary War. When his son joins the American army, he holds fast to his resolve. 

Soon, however, the war comes to Martin’s doorstep. Vicious British Dragoon Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) burns Martin’s house to the ground, killing members of his family. No longer able to sit idly by, Martin joins the fray. Using tactics that subvert traditional British fighting, he begins to turn the tide of the war. As Martin’s bloody rampage continues, Tavington circles closer. 

A fictionalized version of several Revolutionary War characters, The Patriot is a big showy war film that’s fun to watch, even if it’s not historically accurate. Gibson and Heath Ledger lead an ensemble cast in this patriotic epic, which will help you understand just how amazing it was for America to win independence from the greatest military in the world. If you can’t wait for Hamilton to start screening on Disney+, The Patriot also celebrates the men and women who helped found our nation.  

Good Action * R * 165 mins.  

Prime: Band of Brothers  

When you hear the term “Greatest Generation”, chances are you’re thinking of someone like Dick Winters (Damian Lewis). The quiet soldier became the leader of Easy Company, a parachute infantry battalion that played a key role in major battles in WWII’s European Theater.  

This series follows the battalion from basic training through the end of the war, showing you the grim realities of war as well as the moments of tender humanity. Every triumph and loss becomes more personal as the miniseries progresses.  

Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers is one of the most moving portrayals of American soldiers on film. The story is both sweeping and deeply personal, featuring dazzling battle scenes and touching interviews with the survivors of Easy Company. The result is like listening to your grandfather tell war stories. If you’re a fan of WWII movies or looking for a war story with a great deal of character development, you can’t go wrong with this miniseries.  

Great Drama * R * 9h 54 mins.  

Netflix: The Battle of Midway 

One of the most important naval battles in World War II, Midway was a decisive victory for Americans. The battle was documented by legendary Hollywood director John Ford, who was serving in the US Naval Reserves as a lieutenant commander.  

The documentary puts you in the middle of the action. Ford and his camera crew risked life and limb to capture incredible footage of the combat. Watch for the camera to shake and judder, those movements were caused by the impact of the bombs exploding around the filmmakers. Ford was injured during the battle, catching shrapnel in his stomach, but kept filming.  

If you’re interested in WWII history and want to see real-life heroes in action, screen The Battle of Midway for a sense of just how incredible our pilots and seamen were.  

Great Documentary * PG * 18 mins.  

Disney+: Valiant  

Humans aren’t the only animals who fight in wars. In most wars, people have relied upon animals to aid them in their battles. Valiant tells the story of the group of animals who have earned more medals than any other species (save for humans): pigeons.  

Valiant (Ewan McGregor) is a woodland pigeon who dreams of joining the Royal Homing Pigeon Service and becoming a hero. He wants to help deliver secret messages to aid the Allied Forces in WWII. Though he’s very small for a military pigeon, Valiant is brave and determined. Can he become one of the heroes in the sky? Or is he unfit to join the flock? 

Let’s face it: most war movies are too intense for children. Valiant is a creative spin on a traditional war movie by taking a piece of history and putting a spin on it. Animation dulls the horrors of war, and there’s plenty of silly comedy to keep little ones engaged. Watch Valiant with your kids, then Google the Dickin Medal, which was established in the 1940s for heroic animals who have served in the military.  

Good Animation * G * 86 mins. 

Kanopy: The Vietnam War 

While World War II was viewed as a great American military victory, Vietnam is met with more controversy. A wildly unpopular war in the states, Vietnam was a conflict that changed a generation, whether they went to war or not. 

In this ten-part documentary, The Vietnam War, directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick chronicle the Vietnam experience at home and abroad. The film interviews witnesses who fought and protested, learning how the war changed their lives; examines the political machinations that brought the country into and out of the war; and looks into how the battles affected the people of Vietnam.  

Featuring digitally remastered footage from the war as well as home movies, audio recordings, and archival photography, The Vietnam War is a deeply nuanced look at a very controversial conflict. The documentary takes pains to humanize the soldiers who fought and tell the truth about their experience. Like most of Burns’ documentaries, The Vietnam War immerses you in the culture of the time. This is a film that doesn’t glorify or deify the soldiers fighting but simply shows the human toll wars take on both sides.  

Great Documentary * R * 16h 30 mins. 

This Memorial Day, it may not be safe to host a cookout, but you can still pay tribute to those who sacrificed for our country by learning about the battles that shaped our nation, and the brave men and women who have given so much so we can enjoy our freedom.