218 of 222 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2004
As a combat medic who served in the 101st Airborne Division just three months after the events depicted in this film took place, I can tell you that it is absolutely the most realistic Vietnam war film to date. I cannot address the issue of the absolute truth of the way specific events are depicted in the film because I wasn't involved in this particular action, but I can say with no equivocation that the characters and combat shown in this film are absolutely realistic based on my experience. The fictional soldiers shown in the film talk like we talked, and all aspects of combat shown are much like my own experience. Some aspects of this film may seem cliched to some viewers (see below), but that is just the common reality of war and reveals the simplistic views of the times. Soldiers in combat were young and not especially astute in their views. We really did say "it don't mean nothin'." I cried on the way home after I first saw this film in the theatre, and finally achieved the catharsis I needed to leave Vietnam behind me. I am grateful to the director and producers for providing that. Someone finally got it right. "Doc" Cooper, B company, 2/502, 101st airborne division
97 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2004
I served three combat infantry tours in Vietnam, and this is the movie that best captures the realities of the U.S. military field experience there (the other movie that's worth seeing is the more recent "We Were Soldiers"). "Hamburger Hill" has the right music -- the soundtrack is full of songs I never knew the names of, but tunes that I remember hearing in Vietnam and that help to bring back the world as it was then.
You see the ubiquitous helicopters, although no movie, including this one, has ever used anywhere near the number of choppers that were actually used in Vietnam. I've seen as many as 100 around a major operation, but it's rare to see more than a dozen at a time in a movie. I would guess that the cost is prohibitive for movie makers. War is an expensive proposition.
No movie can convey the smells of a place, but "Hamburger Hill" comes close with its images of field conditions, and it catches everything else -- the sights, the sounds, the language, the cliches, the basic training knowledge common to all grunts, the attitudes toward those outside your unit -- including higher command, Vietnamese, media people, and politicians -- and even the social revolution that was rocking America while the troops, who fought for ground that would not be held, knew they would never be allowed to chase the enemy back to his lair, so next week, or next month, or next year you'd be fighting for the same hill again.
For those who were there, this movie takes you back. For those who weren't, this movie, better than any other, tells it like it was. There's a special place in heaven for writers and directors who make truthful art like this.
175 of 184 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2002
This movie is billed as the most realistic war movie to come out of our experience in Vietnam. From the ping of mortar rounds leaving their tubes to the crump of their impact, I agree. Its heroes are Vietnam grunts who only want to survive, but who give it their all because their sense of responsibility to each other and to themselves demands it. There are no masterful generals, no crusading journalists, no anti-hero politicians -- just a group of young men caught up in events they didn't control, probably didn't understand, and certainly didn't want.
There is no shortage of combat scenes. Hamburger Hill depicts in gory detail the action that spanned 11 days (May 10-21, 1969) during which the 3rd Battalion of the 187th Airborne (3/187th, the "Rakkasans" of Korean fame) tried and finally succeeded in taking what was labeled on their maps as Hill 937 (meaning it was 937 meters high). Hill 937 was actually one of several ridges that comprised Dong Ap Bia on the Laotian border in the A Shau Valley.
A series of coordinated operations was planned with the intended purpose to clear the valley, deny its use, and disrupt the enemy's plans. These operations would comprise ten battalions of US and ARVN troops that would move into various parts of the valley in a coordinated scheme of maneuver. The Rakkasans of the 3/187th and an ARVN battalion drew the prize: Dong Ap Bia (Ap Bia Mountain), occupied by two battalions of NVA -- some 600 to 900 strong and probably reinforced during the battle.
The movie follows a fictitious infantry squad, along with the supporting medic, and their platoon sergeant and platoon leader. Focusing on a single squad subtly points out how combat in dense terrain becomes very localized. Their link to the outside world is through the platoon leader's radio and the disembodied voice emanating from it that keeps urging them on and asking for SITREPs (situation reports). You quickly understand that despite the frustrations of the war, the growing hostility at home, and the growing racism within the military, they understand that their individual and collective survival depends on each other. This binds them in a way that few other situations can.
The movie's real strength is its attention to detail. Everything has the right look, sound, and feel. From the crack of M-16 rifle rounds, the hollow resonance of the M-79 grenade launchers, and the crump of impacting mortar rounds, to the radio traffic, the banter, jargon, and slang, the locales and locals, the sandbags on the floors of the trucks, the mud, wooden ammo boxes and artillery shell containers littering the base areas, the red filters on the flashlights, etc. I was particularly thankful to be spared the hand grenades and mortar rounds that explode like giant balls of fire so typical of war movies.
The mistakes were few and minor. The biggest error was that there were not 11 assaults up the hill as the movie leads you to believe. May 10 saw the first contact. On each of the next three days (May 11, 12, and 13) the 3/187th conducted a "reconnaissance in force" (RIF) to find the enemy, probing for weak points. Deliberate assaults occurred on May 14, 15, 18, and 20. The days in between were either stand-downs for resupply or aborted assaults due to the inability of supporting ground units to get into position.
No company, thus no squad, was committed to each RIF and deliberate assault. The squad in the movie is a composite of all the squads engaged. The various incidents -- the squad members' deaths, the NVA virtually rolling their grenades downhill on the attacking Rakkasans, the friendly fire, the torrential downpour on May 18 that stopped that day's assault, and so on -- all happened. They just didn't all happen to the same squad.
Other than the platoon leader, the officer chain of command is never seen; rather, they are depicted as disembodied voices over the radio. This is misleading. The command structure at company and below would be on the ground with the troops; battalion command would be either on the ground or in the air, depending on where the battalion commander thought he could best control the battle.
The movie's anti-war message is apparent from the opening credits, which are interspersed with views of the Capitol and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. The symbolism of our seat of government juxtaposed with the memorial to the fallen is heightened by the wintry sunset reflecting off the Vietnam Memorial.
Rather than a history lesson, the movie is a metaphor for the war in Vietnam: the relentless push to achieve ground of questionable importance despite the high cost in blood. Good men fought and died.
Was it worth it? As the fatalistic mantra among the grunts in the movie said, "It don't mean nothin'." That's a sad, angering attitude until you recall that shortly after the battle was over, we left the hill, as we did with so many other hills, and another NVA regiment moved in and retook possession.
Hamburger Hill doesn't glorify war, but it does show the best attributes of men caught up in war. In so doing it rightfully praises the American soldier. However, one has to conclude that the lives of the men who fought at Hamburger Hill -- the deaths, the anguish, the exhaustion, the physical and emotional wounds -- didn't matter if the capture of the hill didn't ultimately contribute somehow to victory. In the same way, the lives of the men and women who fought in Southeast Asia didn't matter since we didn't prevail in the war. Private Beletsky (Tim Quill) said it all with his silent tear as he surveyed the body-strewn, devastated slope from the summit of Hamburger Hill at the end of the movie.
So, the message is fight to win or don't fight. Make it mean something. That's what some came away from Vietnam with, and that's what makes this a movie worth seeing.
50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2001
From a reality standpoint, this film hits the mark. It is not at all atypical like "Apocalypse Now" (USO Show at night in unsecure area? Give me a break!) or "Platoon" (obsessed with potheads and war lovers). I speak as a veteran of the Vietnam War (May '67 to May '68). The guy who calls this film booring was either in another room or expecting a cartoon. At any rate, he misses the boat or has no experience. The main idea that drove these young soldiers was how to stay alive. The sounds of mortar and artillery explosions used in this picture were the most realistic I have ever heard in any war film. It instantly took me back to 1968 and the nightly mortar attacks we lived through in the central highlands of Vietnam. The characters were entirely believable and diverse. There was conflict between characters as well as conflict on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the film's dipiction of "friendly fire" though tragic was a fact of life at times. And to the guy who says there was no plot: What does he call the all out effort to take that miserable hill day after stinking day? For a typical and realistic rendition of what the war in Vietnam was like, I offer "Hamburger Hill" as the answer.
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2008
This review is from;Hamburger Hill (20th Anniversary Edition)
"Hamburger Hill" is a Vietnam War movie that deserves to be a classic in its own right, but unfortunately it will always be not as highly recognized as the more popular movies of its genre including the highly regarded "Apocalypse Now", "Full Metal Jacket" and "Platoon" (all made by very revered directors Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick & Oliver Stone, respectively). Director John Irvin's "Hamburger Hill" is gritty, action packed and straight to the point film about the 3rd battalion of the 101st Airborne Division's assault on hill 937 in Vietnam from May 10 to 20, 1969. A bloody battle that had nearly a 70% casualty rate. Although underappreciated I personally liked this movie, but rather than review this movie as many others already have under the original Artisan DVD release link, I just wanted to point out the features for the new "20th Anniversary" release. I owned the prior DVD by Artisan (from 2001) and I decided to splurge on the new, 2008 release by Lions Gate.
The 20th Anniversary release of "Hamburger Hill" was given a new, anamorphic widescreen transfer by Lions Gate. Although I thought the old Artisan DVD contained a decent transfer, there were some imperfections or spots on the film. Not much, but some. The colors on the old transfer also looked slightly faded and fuzzy. The new transfer on the otherhand, looks slightly sharper and more focused. The imperfections I saw on the old transfer are gone on the new one. Great clean up job! I'm not really an expert on sound, but the new DVD contains a digital 5.1 sound track which for the most part sounds almost identical to the Artisan DVD. Although this is not really a complaint, the scene selection in the old transfer had 36 chapter stops while the new transfer has only 16. This is probably irrelevant to most people, but I just thought I would take note of it.
The 20th Anniversary DVD now contains commentary tracks from the film's writer/Producer Jim Carabatsos and actors Anthony Barrile, Harry O'Reilly and Daniel O'Shea. Most of the commentary is from Carabastos. Some of the commentary is screen specific, but most of it is about the films' origin and production. The actors mostly talk about their auditions and boot camp experiences at Subic Bay, Philippines in addition to their own experiences on the film.
The new release now contains a couple of new featurettes. One is called "The Appearance of Reality" (16 minutes, 50 seconds). This is your standard behind the scenes, film crew & cast interviews with some film footage. We also hear from director John Irvin and writer/Producer Jim Carabatsos. The feature also covers the difficulties encountered while making the film in the Philippines. Watching this reminded me of some the difficulties encountered when "Apocalypse Now" was made which was well covered in the documentary "Hearts of Darkness". Some of the troubled moments during the filming of "Hamburger Hill" included an electrician that was electrocuted (and died) during filming, a typhoon, some local fighting during the Aquino revolution against the Marcos Regime and some sniper fire towards the actors' van at night (the van had to drive with the lights off and the passengers had to crouch down for safety to avoid the sniper fire!).
The other featurette is called "Medics in Vietnam" which is about medics (about 6 minutes). Although very short in length, I still think it's great that some well, deserved recognition is given to the medics in the battlefield and some basic, understanding about how vital they are as supporting units in the battlefield. We hear excerpts from actor Courtney Vance who played medic Doc Johnson in the film as well as a military historian Colonel Robert Tomlinson, book author Artur Wiknik Jr. and former medic Bob Rogers. I found it interesting that some of the medics that went to Vietnam had such distinct backrounds. Some were ex-infantry men and some were conscientious objectors that didn't want to fight in the war, but wanted to help in the effort nevertheless.
The DVD also has an interactive "Vietnam War Timeline" filled with interesting key dates and facts. The timeline has a sixteen different date menus in chronological order from 1867 (the French Colonization) to 1975 (the American withdrawal). When you select each date with your DVD player's remote, some text notes, map locations and/or pictures appear to explain what happened in that specific time period you selected. Neat!
The last features on the DVD are trailers for other Lions Gate films including "Reservoir Dogs 15th Anniversary" (and video game preview), American Psycho, 3:10 to Yuma and Rambo (the new 2008 DVD and the Rambo "Ultimate Edition" set). Note there is NO trailer for "Hamburger Hill" on the 20th Anniversary DVD, but if you have purchased the new 2008 "Rambo" two-disc DVD set, the trailer for "Hamburger Hill" (20th Anniversary DVD) is there.
My only, minor complaint about the new DVD is the absence of actor Don Chealde from the featurette and the commentary. Chealde became famous later for his many roles in other films such as "Hotel Rwanda" & "Ocean's Eleven". Although his role in "Hamburger Hill" is somewhat minor (a stepping stone for him at the time), I appreciated all of his work and I still would of liked to hear any of his insights about "Hamburger Hill" despite the fact that he has become a much, more acclaimed actor now than he was back then. Otherwise, I think this is a worthy upgrade for fans of the film who owned the prior DVD and a worthy purchase for new viewers. Improved picture and some interesting features made the "20th Anniversary" a good purchase for me and possibly for you?
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2005
As Full Metal Jacket was the most accurate portrayal of Marine Corps boot camp i've seen on film, Hamburger Hill was the most accurate depiction I've seen of small unit combat in Vietnam.
Those of us who were there appreciate this movie for what it is and more importantly, for what it isnt. It isn't a jingoistic flag waver (The Green Berets), a bad acid trip (Apocalypse Now), or an over reaching shakespearian melodrama in elephant grass (Platoon). It is simply an attempt to give a grunts eye view of a squad of soldiers during a single 10 day battle. In my view, it does so superbly. The sights, sounds (especially the crump of exploding mortar rounds) and chaotic confusion of combat are very well portrayed. I tend to believe this is why veterans generally like this movie and non veterans dont. Cinematically this movie perhaps isnt as compelling as the aforementioned films, but Hamburger Hill captures the "feel" of Vietnam far better than the others.
USMC Vietnam 1971
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 1999
Unlike Oliver Stone's Vietman epics Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July, Hamburger Hill does not strive to do anything other than tell a story about an especially brutal battle in Vietnam with honesty and accuracy. The film succeeds, and does so far better than any other Vietnam film to date.
Complaints that the film and its characters lack emotional power utterly miss the point, which is to portray how men handle the near-unbearable stresses of war. And the complaint is just plain wrong in itself; we see great emotional power in a number of scenes. One of my favorites comes when Sgt. Franz (Dylan McDermott) lectures his platoon before they're choppered off to the A Shau Valley and Hill 937 - the titular Hamburger Hill. The FNGs of the platoon show a surliness and uncooperative attitude that will get them killed, as Franz pointedly reminds them; "I'm gonna save your life, you're gonna save mine!"
Hamburger Hill is one of the most famous battles of Vietnam because of an exceptionally slanderous and irresponsible speech during the battle by Senator Ted Kennedy. The film touches on this speech in a brilliant scene when a pushy civilian TV journalist tries to lecture Franz' men about the futility of the whole effort. Franz explodes at the man, cutting him off when he tries to continue his gratuitously patronizing lecture; Franz says, "I've got more respect for (the enemy) on the hill. They take a side; you just take pictures."
The battle scenes are often immortal. There is a Communist mortar siege of a bridge before the 101st choppers into A Shau; the enemy's mortars blast the area, then are finally silenced by US artillery. There is combat for a low-lying bunker at the base of Hill 937; bombing by F-4 Phantoms of the enemy-held treelines; a horrifying scene when a 101st chopper strafes the area, and grunts on the ground get caught in the fire.
The grunts from time to time wonder why they're attacking this particular hill - best touched on in a hilarious scene when the platoon medic asks what Blackjack (the callsign for the batallion leader) intends to do with the hill. "Pave it and turn it into a (godforsaken) parking lot," Franz retorts. Ironically, the sheer fury of enemy resistance answers the question; if the hill was worthless, why was the enemy so determined to hold it?
There are a number of cutting comments by grunts on the ground about Blackjack, who is never seen other than safely overhead in a helicopter, and who is only heard making disparaging comments like, "One-six, you're falling behind," or "You're getting paid to fight a war, not discuss it." These scenes are superb, but they make up the film's lone flaw; the real life batallion commander in charge of the Hill 937 battle was wounded three times during the lengthy siege.
To see a brutally realistic portrayal of the Vietnam war, or any ground war for that matter, then this is the film.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2003
As a Marine combat veteran with almost three years in Viet Nam, I know this was the best movie made about the war of the top three movies made in the 80s about Viet Nam (four if you count Apocalypse Now Redux - more of a psychedelic view of the war rather than reality). Hamburger Hill shows Grunts at the various stages of their tour in country, the individuals and their wants and desires, and how they died.
By comparison, Platoon was good, but with a typical Stone political bent and philosoiphical ending. Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket was just plain poor, with a typical left-wing view about something Kubrick obviously knew very little. The best part of that movie was the boot camp section and only then because the DI, Lee Ermey, had been a real Marine DI.
Hamburger Hill was factual and the various actors played their parts with the guts and truism that many in Hollywood fail to produce (ala Sheen in Platoon).
Hamburger Hill is a solid war movie in general, a solid Viet Nam movie in particular and one that deserved much more credit than it received. Two thumbs up...
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2003
Rakkassans rock! This is my drill sergeant's old unit. He loved this movie and told everybody to buy it. He swore that it was the most accurate portrayal of Vietnam that he had seen. (Could he have been prejudiced because he was there? We Eagles tend to be prejudiced for our own.)
When I watched it the first couple of times, I was reduced to tears. Geez, those guys went through hell, but never gave up their fighting spirit or determination to win - even when facing a no-win political situation! My drill once commented that after being at HH, none of the survivors will go to hell because the devil knows they'll take over! These are the ultimate fighting men on a most horrendous mission.
Get this movie. Encourage your local history teachers to utilize it in their classrooms. It ain't pretty, but war never is.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2000
This is the best of the three big movies of the late 80's. Platoon received the attention but this movie captures the situation and the times much more authentically. The plot is detailed and flows well. There are no boring segments. The acting is great, especially Dylan McDermott. What puts this movie over the top are the underlying themes, a diverse group of young men that bury the racial tensions from home and become a solid unit of comrades. One of the most poignant scenes is when one of the non-descript white soldiers is killed and Doc, the African-American medic, who is also wounded, breaks down at his death. All pretenses of racial animus are dropped as Doc weeps over a fallen comrade. This is just one of many scenes describing the struggle of young men, far from home, with little support except within the unit. This lack of support on the home front, even the open disdain from some politicians such as Ted Kennedy, is brought home as well. Overall, this movie is gripping, moreso, because it brings home the point that whether people were for or against the war, it was fought by human beings with a sense of duty, many of whom lost their lives tragically. Watch this movie the night before before Memorial Day and maybe you will put off the barbecue and pay homage to all of those who have given their lives in the great causes that citizen soldiers throughout our history, have given their lives.