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105 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Hard Movie, April 30, 2002
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This review is from: The Hill [VHS] (VHS Tape)
One of the most intelligent and honest (not to mention beautifully filmed) movies I've seen in ages. Anyone depressed by Sean Connery's recent whorishness needs to look at this one. It's by far his greatest film.
"The Hill" that gives the movie its name is a device of torture built by prisoners in the Libyan desert: a pyramid of stone, sand and corrugated iron, which looks like a vestige of some ancient, barbaric age. Prisoners who violate the letter or "spirit" of the British Army's antiquated rules are forced to hump double-time over the hill in full pack, in the searing mid-day sun, endlessly, until they drop. On its sides men are broken--hollowed out--and obedient robots are made.
"The Hill" is, in my opinion, the most powerful WWII film ever made--yet not one bullet is fired in its two-plus hours. The drama and the terror of this film are in the war of character, of wills: the violence of psychological destruction. If this sounds boring to you, you should know that the film draws you in quickly with its stark premise (a disgraced NCO enters a detention camp for incorrigible soldiers, and antagonizes the sadistic staff-sergeant), then cuts deeper and deeper and does not flinch for an instant. This movie has a spine harder than the sun-blasted rock of "the hill" itself.
The maniacal inflexibility of leadership--particularly in wartime, and especially among noncombatants eager to prove their "toughness"--has been the theme of several great movies. This may be the greatest. Its atmosphere is more convincing than other prison/boot-camp flicks ("Full Metal Jacket," "Midnight Express," etc.), and its photography and editing have enormous impact--all without resort to stylization or even a musical score. The final brilliance is in the casting. It helps, of course, that most of the actors are unfamiliar to American viewers, but even the well-known ones inhabit their roles completely. Ossie Davis, for instance, is brilliant as a Caribbean prisoner who is forced to the conclusion that his white commanders are absurd and contemptible, unworthy of his obedience.

British character actor Harry Andrews (of the equine teeth and chin) does a vivid turn as the Sergeant-Major of the prison camp. He has to carry a lot of metaphorical baggage--all the sick, ossified Victorian sanctification of rules and ritualized manliness--on his lantern-jaw, yet he carries it off with surprising subtlety. (For instance: watch his face during the aborted prison riot, when the fear creeps into his smile as he realizes his junior officer may a psychopath).
Connery, the "star" of the ensemble, is a revelation. As the officer imprisoned for having defied a homicidally stupid order--and who still could not save his men--Connery adds a hint of survivor's guilt to the rage and perplexity simmering behind the resigned posture and sarcastic bluster. He's a hulk of a man, a field-hardened warrior, yet his lip trembles a bit as he steps out of rank--into the killing zone of the prison disciplinarians--to give evidence against an officer suspected in an inmate's death.
He has reason to be afraid. The officer he accuses, as played by Ian Hendry, is a meager, rail-thin fragment of a man, but what there is of him is iron-hard: a flesh and bone stiletto of cold savagery. Had a big man, like the ogreish Paul Smith of "Midnight Express," been cast in the role, the conflict would have lost its dimensions and richness. It would have been reduced to a physical contest. Hendry's sergeant tells us all we need know about the misuse of authority, about the inadequate, half-mad creatures who can flourish within a rigid power-structure and use it to destroy far stronger, smarter, braver men. This sergeant's eyes hide in the shadow of his cap, and his voice and poise are almost feminine, but his chin is set and he knows the Structure's weaknesses and rules, chapter and verse. He exploits the Army's Victorian pieties (discipline, industry, clean-mindedness) to brutalize others, and in him those virtues become obscene.
Hendry despises the prisoner Stevens (who carries love letters from his wife) for his sentimentality, and for other, darker reasons, and he uses the Hill to exterminate him. Now we see the truth Connery saw long before, that the Devil hides in the rules, and in the absence of checks and balances insubordination may be a man's only duty.
Unfortunately the other men cannot share his insight--or see that Hendry is just the symptom, not the disease--and the ending, as often in honest movies of this sort, is despairing. In a final, devastating twist, Connery is forced to watch helplessly as history repeats itself.
Regrettably, what is true for history does not hold for art, for films. They don't make them like this anymore. Probably never will again.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 18, 2006 4:25:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2006 4:25:54 PM PST
An outstanding approach, description and review of a wonderful cinematic piece. I agree wholeheartedly with the way the reviewer described this movie. I too found this movie to be a classic - to be seen, studied and enjoyed by all.

Posted on May 31, 2007 10:03:00 PM PDT
VIRGO says:
I agree completely with the reviewer, D Walker and also Nicholas M Williams' comments. This is a top notch film both for its theme and for the superb acting. This is Connery's best role and many would argue that he is at least equalled if not surpassed by other members of the cast. This film failed to pick up any oscars yet it should have. So much for the politics of Hollywood.


Posted on Dec 12, 2007 5:45:03 PM PST
D. Colley says:
Great review, adds a new dimension to the film.

Posted on Dec 14, 2010 5:02:45 PM PST
Dads Team says:
Wow! What a review, and I couldn't have found any better way of expressing my view of this film. Well Done!

Posted on Mar 10, 2011 10:11:49 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Oct 15, 2014 6:16:06 AM PDT
jbkmd says:
great review that adds the insight of the murderer's character. if anyone has the courage to go to, you will see this"british" new world order being set up in the u.s.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 22, 2012 9:04:14 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 22, 2012 9:05:06 AM PDT
Jack O'Brien says:
It is a unique piece in both Connery's and Lumet's careers. Not sure it would be made today, too non pc, but the performances are classic.

Posted on Oct 14, 2014 4:54:20 PM PDT
rnh17 says:
It took me a long time to chance upon this film. Great moviemaking. Chilling throughout. I think it falls short of greatness because the ending stumbled into melodrama, but I won't argue with those who call it great.
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D. Walker

Location: Maryland

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