This weekend, as you search for a movie to watch, you can either head to the theater for Lone Survivor or pick one of approximately 14 billion options available on streaming over a variety of services, be it Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Redbox Instant, On Demand, or other sites. Every Friday, Vulture tries to make life easier by narrowing it down to a handful of heartily recommended options. This week, a Shakespeare play with tanks, a vicious examination of postwar life, and a documentary that takes one impossibly close to a life-or-death conflict.
Before its lengthy and much-discussed firefight, Lone Survivor establishes its Navy SEALs as real men. They have tasks to fulfill, lives back at home, and emotions swirling inside their heads. And then it becomes an action movie. In 2010’s Restrepo, directors Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington avoid glossing up footage they shot on the fly while embedded with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Platoon of Battle Company. The duo’s frank footage paints the soldiers of the company as natural heroes, willing to step out into northeastern Afghanistan Korangal Valley (dubbed “the most dangerous place in the world”), converse with and protect locals, and fight for their lives when the Taliban strikes. Restrepo offers complete immersion; Hetherington follows his subjects into Operation Rock Avalanche, nesting next to machine guns as orders are screamed and bullets fly in every direction. While film editing ultimately intrudes subjectivity into a documentary, Restrepo never vies for our hearts. When the camera rolls on a soldier reflecting on the deaths of his friends but unable to find the words to do it, it’s raw honesty. Hard to find in the 24-hour news cycle. (Available on Netflix, Amazon Prime)
Ralph Fiennes’s directorial debut transplants one of Shakespeare’s less-recognizable works into an alternate, modern-day Rome, looking like a hybrid of The Hurt Locker and Children of Men. Fiennes infuses the political play with scenes of nightmarish violence, the ripple effect of Coriolanus’s hunger for war. As the titular character, Fiennes sinks sharpened fangs into the Bard’s dialogue, turning poetry into the words of war-room transcripts (I imagine American politicians having a little less elegance, but just as much ferocity). Coriolanus’s time is split sparring with rival Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) and brooding blood-soaked in the darkness of his existence, and yet Fiennes’s adaptation never collapses under its own seriousness. We should be terrified that a guy from the fifteenth century was able to pen something politically relevant to today. (Netflix, Redbox Instant)
The Messenger (2009)
War doesn’t go away, even after you come home. In The Messenger, writer-director Oren Peli takes a streamlined look at post-tour life by assigning his characters the most gut-wrenching job imaginable. Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson play two casualty notification officers, deliverers of bad news to those who lost family in the war. The film subverts a movie trope; often we see two soldiers knock at a door, announce a fallen soldier, then stick around with the grieving family. But Peli imagines the weight of that task, a day-after-day reminder of mortality that compounds existing PTSD into a homegrown hell. Foster and Harrelson are a pair of tough, gnarly dudes and watching them deflate under pressure without veering into melodrama is Peli’s great feat. (Netflix)