Three must-see war movies to watch for in 2013

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Attention war film buffs: there are three exciting, scheduled new releases to put in your diaries for 2013. Each is based on a true story, two from WW2 and one from Vietnam, so it will be interesting to see – if you are a stickler for ‘authenticity’ like me – just how closely each sticks to the historical facts.

The Railway Man

First up is The Railway Man from Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky (Better Than Sex, 2000; Burning Man, 2011), which stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, is currently in post-production, and is set for release in Australia in April 2013 and then worldwide in May.

It tells the story of Eric Lomax, a young British Army signals officer who was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942 then forced to work as a slave-labourer on the notorious Burma-Thailand railway – and promises to be a much more ‘authentic’ film than David Lean’s 1957 blockbuster, The Bridge on the River Kwai.

The film is based on Lomax’s acclaimed, bestselling 1995 memoir of the same title with a screenplay by the British novelist and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People, 2002). Sadly, Eric Lomax himself died in October 2012, aged 93.

Because the whole prisoner-of-war experience under the Japanese during WW2 is still such an emotive issue in Australia, the film should do very well in cinemas here Down Under.

Next is They Marched into Sunlight, the big-screen adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss’s book, which has already been the subject of a 2005 TV documentary (US title Two Days in October; UK title How Vietnam was Lost). This film is especially exciting because It has the potential to be the most gripping, and ‘authentic’, Vietnam War movie since Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987).

In my opinion, They Marched into Sunlight (2003) is the best book about the war in Vietnam after Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977). You could say that if Herr, as a reporter for Esquire magazine, captured the ‘craziness’ of the war, Maraniss, as a journalist-historian with The Washington Post, has captured its utter futility.

It tells two intertwined, true stories, which happened simultaneously in October 1967: that of America’s first ‘violent’ university-campus protest against the war (in which the violence was, in fact, begun by the city police and not the students) and that of a disastrous ‘search-and-destroy’ mission against the Viet Cong by a battalion of the elite US 1st Infantry Division (‘The Big Red One’) in which they were almost wiped out.

Production details for the film are still quite sketchy and no release date has yet been announced, but let’s hope it’s ready for cinemas by the mid-summer of 2013.

Thirdly, is producer Sir Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Dambusters, a remake of the classic 1955 British war film The Dam Busters, with a screenplay by British actor-writer Stephen Fry (BBC TV’s Blackadder, etc.)

Although said to have been in production since 2006, Dambusters seems to have been put on the back-burner because of Jackson’s involvement with The Hobbit. It should be interesting because the original film used three real, flying Lancaster bombers, whereas Jackson has none, but will rely instead on a full-scale model built by the Oscar-winning Weta Workshop, plus CGI.

The film has generated interest from the British news media, but so far mainly because the word ‘Nigger’ – the name of Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s black labrador and a key radio code-word used during the 1943 dams’ raid itself – has reportedly been changed to ‘Digger’ so as not to offend.

Whatever. Let’s hope that Dambusters finally makes it into cinemas by the end of 2013.

Roger Bourke

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