Go tell these movies to the marines
By Bert Ehrmann
2005-10-31 — On November 6, Universal Pictures will release Jarhead. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition), Jarhead is based on Anthony Swooford's book on his experiences as a Marine through boot camp, to Kuwait and eventually taking part in the first Gulf War.
Though I'm guessing the release of Jarhead this year has more to do with our current situation in Iraq than the previous one, Jarhead is not the first movie to deal with that war.
The first movie based on the first Gulf War was entitled The Heroes of Desert Storm and aired on network television the same year the war ended, 1991. The Heroes of Desert Storm dealt with the war through three different events. I remember actor Daniel Baldwin as an infantryman tasked to clean out a bunker system of Iraqi soldiers, but there were also stories about soldiers rescuing downed airmen behind enemy lines as well as people preparing for chemical attacks on cities. I do, however, remember that The Heroes of Desert Storm seemed "slapped together" with a "Movie of the Week" feel and wasn't all that good.
Courage Under Fire was released a few years later. Denzel Washington plays a Lt. Colonel Serling, investigating helicopter pilot Emma Walden (Meg Ryan) for the Medal of Honor. Serling discovers that it might not have been the Iraqis who killed Walden when the soldiers with her the night she was killed all seem to have different stories. Told Rashomon (1950) style, Courage Under Fire shows each participant's viewpoint the night Walden was killed and delves into each character's particular experiences.
Probably the best movie about the Gulf War was Three Kings (1999). Written and directed by David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees 2004), Three Kings stars George Clooney as Maj. Archie Gates, who along with three other men decides to sneak into Iraq after the war to steal millions in looted Kuwaiti bullion. When Gates and his men enter the village they suspect houses the loot, they find the villagers being mistreated by the Iraqi soldiers stationed there. When Gates and his men try to help them, they become entangled with the Iraqi soldiers bent on maintaining order.
Look for a very young Alia Shawkat (Maeby from Arrested Development) playing an Iraqi girl.
HBO's Live from Baghdad (2002) dealt with the Gulf War being the first war televised live via CNN. Michael Keaton plays CNN producer Robert Weiner, who leads a film crew into the heart of Baghdad just before the start of the war. When other news agencies flee the city, the CNN crew is getting the story of a lifetime, becoming one of the few networks to interview Saddam Hussein and, when the war breaks out, are the only network in town to broadcast the air strikes live risking their lives in the process.
Even as recently as last year, the remake of The Manchurian Candidate had its roots in the Gulf War. In the movie, Maj. Ben Marco (again Denzel Washington) leads his men into Iraq when things go wrong. It's only the fast action of Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) that saves the group from capture or death. Or does he? More than a decade later, Marco and the survivors of his squad aren't doing well, having mental problems and ending up in institutions. What's thought to be posttraumatic stress disorder could be something more insidious when Marco turns up some disturbing evidence of that night back in Iraq while Shaw makes a run for Vice President for the United States.
I was a fifteen-year-old high school student doing homework in the basement of my grandmother's house when the bombs began dropping, marking the start of the first Gulf War. And here, fourteen years later, America is still dealing with this war through the entertainment medium. If World War II is any indication of how long this process can go on, it's sixty years after the end of that war and movies based on it are as common as ever. So, I suppose some fifty years from now future generations will still be watching movies based on the first Gulf War.