Hell Hath No Fury


Wondering what’s going on.

(2021) War (Well Go USA) Nina Bergman, Andrew Berling, Daniel Bernhardt, Louis Mandylor, Josef Cannon, Timothy Murphy, Charles Fathy, Luke LaFontaine, Alma Andrei, Dominique Vandenberg. Directed by Jesse V. Johnson

Greed does things to people, most of it not very nice. It turns our moral compasses to the “off” position and puts us in a place where we see nothing else beyond our own avarice. It turns us, in short, into assholes.

In the waning day of World War II, Marie DuJardin (Bergman) has just been released from prison. She has been forced to shave her head – not because of lice, but because she had a romantic affair with a German officer, SS Major von Bruckner (Bernhardt). A Swastika has been painted on her dome to let all and sundry know that she is a collaborator. She is forced to go half-naked (wearing only a slip) and is in serious jeopardy of being ripped limb from limb; until she tells a group of American GIs led by Major Maitland (Mandylor) that she knows the location of Nazi gold.

She agrees to take them there, but unknown to either one of them the French resistance fighters who had ambushed her and von Bruckner three years earlier are also on the hunt for the gold – and the Nazis, who are withdrawing from France, do not intend to flee without their gold. It threatens to be a really nasty fight, but who is conning who?

While Marie DuJardin actually existed, her story was spiced up a bit and made more cinematic, so don’t go thinking that this all actually happened this way. It didn’t. Still, Bergman is a real find. A Danish model/actress/singer of Russian descent, her French accent isn’t the best you’ll ever hear, but she makes up for it with oodles of presence, a ballsy action heroine attitude, and a willingness to take herself to emotional places a lot of actresses shy away from. Her presence is so formidable that she can spend most of the film wearing just underwear without it feeling exploitive; she radiates dignity that goes beyond what she’s wearing. Note to the makers of the James Bond films; she’d make an excellent Bond girl no matter who ends up with the role next.

I do give the filmmakers props for getting this made with COVID protocols in place, but you’d never know it watching the movie. Yeah, there are plenty of cliches, the story is a bit convoluted and the twists end up being preposterous but despite all of that the movie grows on you enough that you can overlook the obvious flaws and just take it all in.

This is one of those movies that is slow getting started, but once it does it’s actually pretty entertaining. The trouble is, you have to sit through about 40 minute that are pretty slow-moving, and not everyone has that kind of patience. Those that stick around will be rewarded by a slam-bang finale full of twists and turns (some of them admittedly improbable) that as long as you’re willing to chuck logic out the window, you’re liable to have a good time in spite of yourself.

REASONS TO SEE: Picks up steam as it goes along.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels convoluted, cliched and occasionally mean-spirited.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence, profanity and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Vandenberg spent several years as a member of the French Foreign Legion before turning to stunt work and acting.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Spectrum (available on most streaming platforms on November 9, 2021)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/7/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Three Kings
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Dangerous

The East (De Oost)


Take me to the river.

(2020) War (Magnet) Martijn Lakemeier, Marwan Kenzari, Jonas Smulders, Abel van Gijlswijk, Coen Bril, Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Jim Deddes, Jeroen Perceval, Mike Reus, Joenoes Polnaija, Denise Aznam, Peter Paul Muller, Huub Smit, Putri Ayudya, Lukman Sardi, David Wristers, Robert de Hoog, Reinout Bussemaker, Joes Brauers, Nanette Edens. Directed by Jim Taihuttu

 

Before the United States sank into the quagmire that was Vietnam, the Netherlands had Indonesia, or the Dutch East Indies as it was then known. It was 1945 and World War II had just ended. The Netherlands had been occupied for the bulk of the war by the Nazis and her East Asian colonies had been occupied by Japan. Now the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army was in the process of booting the Japanese out.

But the inhabitants of the many islands that make up Indonesia were fed up with colonialism. They wanted to rule themselves, to determine their own future. But they were divided by hundreds of islands and so there was fighting sprouting up all over the place and the army was sent in to quell these pockets of unrest that could turn into a full-blown rebellion if the various factions were to unite.

Into this atmosphere comes Johan de Vries (Lakemeier), a young man with redemption on his mind. His father had disgraced the family name – the name Johan had been born with – and when others in the company get wind of who Johan is – or rather, who his father is – things get a little dicey for him. He finds a role model in Raymond Westerling (Kenzari), known to the enlisted men as “The Turk” whose very simple black and white assessment of the situation has won the admiration of the men, and his non-nonsense results-oriented approach has many thinking that he should be in charge.

In fact, Westerling is soon given his own elite team of men in black uniforms that are eerily reminiscent of the Gestapo and they are sent to fight terror with some of their own. Westerling’s methods are brutal and final. At first, Johan is fine with those methods – he doesn’t exactly have a moral compass that points true north – but as he sees that their efforts are giving the Indonesians someone to unify against, he begins to reconsider his allegiance – and that the Turk cannot tolerate.

The depiction here of the Dutch army would prompt a lawsuit from a veteran’s group in the Netherlands who objected to the way the Dutch soldiers are portrayed, but director Jim Taihuttu sourced much of his material from the diaries of men who actually served in the conflict. The lawsuit eventually made its way through the Dutch courts where the defense was eventually successful in winning the case.

The depiction of the fighting men and the steamy jungle warfare harkens back to classic Vietnam war films like Apocalypse Now, Casualties of War and Platoon, and while some of the plot elements appear to have been at least inspired by those films (one could draw a direct line from Colonel Kurtz to the Turk and not be wrong), the movie has a sensibility all its own – perhaps because the war is largely unknown today, even in the Netherlands.

Both Lakemeier and Kenzari play morally compromised characters and do a fine job of making them both reasonably relatable, although Westerling eventually goes right off the rails at the very end. The fact that both men are so flawed makes them so compelling.

As war movies go, there is not nearly as much action in this film as you might expect, which in a nearly 2 ½ hour film may make attention-challenged Americans squirm a bit in their chairs. The middle third of the movie is a bit ponderous, and I could have done without the subplot about Johan’s relationship with an Indonesian prostitute. It’s that last third, however, that is where The East really shines. Truth be told though, I must admit I was a little bit disappointed by the ending, but it is telegraphed a little bit by the opening scenes.

All in all, this is a fairly densely packed movie that gives the audience a whole lot to think about, especially considering the morality of nations and of the soldiers. The Dutch soldiers feel nothing but disdain for the Indonesians, who they call “brown monkeys” (and worse) and essentially assert that the whole idea of independence is ludicrous because they couldn’t possibly govern themselves. Of course, time proved those soldiers wrong as Indonesia has one of the most vibrant economies on Earth currently.

I really liked the movie, but I can see how it won’t be for everyone. The run time might give some pause and the lack of spectacle even more so. However, it does bring to light a conflict that evidently we haven’t learned from nearly 80 years after the fact. If we had, we never would have stayed in Afghanistan as long as we did.

REASONS TO SEE: Gritty and dark. Some strong performances from the leads.
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags a bit in the middle and I’m not a fan of the ending.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, racial slurs, war violence, sex and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taihuttu’s grandfather fought and died in the conflict as a member of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Alamo On-Demand, Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/17/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Platoon
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Not Going Quietly