5 stories from 21CF to watch in honor of Memorial Day

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Three films, a limited series and a documentary to help us remember those who died while serving in the U.S. military

Memorial Day – a day that marks the unofficial start of summer is also one that weighs heavily upon our collective hearts. As towns big and small across the U.S. prepare for parades, backyard BBQs and pool parties, let us take a moment to express our unyielding appreciation to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy our way of life. To help get us into the spirit, here are five military-themed stories — including three feature films, a limited series and a documentary — from our 21st Century Fox library that value authenticity in storytelling.

 

The Long Road Home” (2017)
Distributor: National Geographic Channel
Format: Limited series
Director: Phil Abraham and Mikael Salomon

April 4, 2004. Sadr City, Iraq. The time and place where America’s military mission in Iraq was abruptly transformed from nation building to fighting a Shiite insurgency. Frequently referred to as “the safest place in Iraq” prior to this harrowing day, the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City would rob the young lives of eight soldiers from the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division in a brutal two-day siege and wound 65 more. Based on ABC Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz’s 2007 nonfiction book of the same title, Nat Geo’s pulse-pounding military action is a gritty dramatization of the attack that later came to be known as “Black Sunday.” The eight-episode series also takes us through the raw and maddening anxiety of the men’s families back home in real-time as news of the attack trickle in. The drama owes its visceral feel to the production’s unwavering commitment to authenticity, which came down to minutiae such as the right way to fasten the Velcro on Kevlar vests and the proper way to apply the chinstraps on the helmets. The Army also allowed filming on base in Fort Hood, Texas, where the actors lived and worked as a tight-knit team during the two-month shoot.

Restrepo” (2010)
Distributor: National Geographic Channel
Format: Feature-length documentary
Director: Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

Wave after wave of 15-20 American soldiers were sent to defend the Korengal Outpost (“KOP”), dubbed “The Valley of Death,” between 2006 and 2010 because it was thought to be a key strategic position along the Taliban’s transport route. Named after a platoon medic killed at this outpost in 2007 (PFC Juan S. Restrepo), this 2010 Sundance Film Festival winner was directed and filmed by British war photographer Tim Hetherington and American journalist Sebastian Junger when they were embedded with the Second Platoon, B Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army. In May 2007, these men began their 15-month punishing deployment in an area notorious for its desolate, jagged and unforgiving terrain. The men faced heavy artillery fire from the Taliban on a daily basis: Captain Kearney, the 27-year-old commanding officer of Battle Company at that time, recalls 13 firefights in a 24-hour period. Staff Sergeant Joshua McDonaugh said, “There’s no research on how to treat us. They haven’t had to deal with guys like us since WWII and Vietnam, guys who are coming back from 51 deployments with as much fighting as we went through.” In April 2010, after almost 50 soldiers had fallen, the U.S. Army withdrew from the outpost.

Antwone Fisher” (2002)
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Format: Feature
Director: Denzel Washington

“I was born two months after my father was murdered. My mother left me, my father… Nobody’s taking anything else away from me no more.” Those are the words Seaman Antwone “Fish” Fisher (Derek Luke) barks at his Navy psychiatrist, Lt. Cmdr. Davenport (Academy Award winner Denzel Washington). Based on the real-life Fisher’s 2001 autobiography “Finding Fish,” the coming-of-age drama also marks Washington’s feature directorial debut. Demoted and restricted to the ship for 45 days after a physical altercation with a fellow sailor, Fisher is ordered to mandatory counseling sessions with Davenport. Through their sessions, we begin to understand the genesis of Fisher’s mercurial temper — he was physically and emotionally abused by his foster parents and sexually molested by his foster sister for years. Even though screenwriter Fisher had only taken one free screenwriting class at that time, producer Todd Black was impressed with his story and hired him on. Forty-one drafts later, it was sold to Fox Searchlight. Nominated for Best Screenplay at the WGA Awards, the film also rewarded Luke with the Best Male Lead honor at the 2003 Film Independent Spirit Awards for his earnest yet gut-wrenching performance.

Courage Under Fire” (1996)
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Format: Feature
Director: Edward Zwick

Riddled with guilt over his role in the friendly-fire incident that killed his friend, Army Lt. Col. Serling (Denzel Washington) is reassigned to a desk job and tasked to lead an inquiry into whether Captain Walden (Meg Ryan) deserves to be the first woman to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor. Walden is a medevac chopper pilot in the 1st Gulf War who, by many accounts, saved the lives of her crew during a rescue mission of a downed Black Hawk. However, as Serling interviews more of the crew, conflicting accounts and a whiff of a potential cover-up begin to unravel. Since the Pentagon withdrew their cooperation due to editorial disagreements, the movie lost the ability to film on base using army artillery and equipment. To get around this, the production team purchased 11 old Centurion British tanks from Australia and repurposed them to look like the M1A1 Abrams tanks used in the war.

Patton” (1970)
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Format: Feature
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Winner of seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor (for actor George C. Scott), this critical darling and box office success is universally regarded as a time-honored gem in the combat biopic genre. Based on two biographies/memoirs, the bold and bloody battlefield drama famously opens with a six-minute monologue where the General addresses his soldiers before the final push into Germany-occupied France, the colossal American flag behind him filling the 70-mm screen. Clocking in at 172 minutes (screenings of the film often include an intermission), the feature that won screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola his first Oscar begins with the North Africa campaign in 1943 before we return to Patton’s push through France after “D-Day.” The 18-week shoot mostly took place in Spain, with some portions also filmed in England, Morocco and Greece.