Most history enthusiasts will eye the release of a new film on a historical topic somewhat skeptically, thinking ‘will they get it right?’ Here are some that did!
By Michael Vecchio
THE IMITATION GAME (2014) DIR. MORTEN TYLDUM
Chronicling the life of British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing (1912-1954), The Imitation Game is a handsomely made film that not only highlights the accomplishments of its protagonist but celebrates the off the battlefield efforts that contributed to the fall of Nazi Germany. At the outset of the Second World War in 1939, Britain and its Allies initially struggled both military and politically against the Third Reich as Hitler seemed to be on an unstoppable rampage. One of the sophisticated tools used by the Nazis was the Enigma Machine, which encrypted top secret military communications, and which proved to be impossible for the Allies to decipher.
Enter Alan Turing and a group of mathematicians and analysts who are recruited by the British government to help decipher Enigma’s messages and gain insight into Nazi plans of attack. Socially awkward and difficult to work with, Turing’s insistence on dominating the Enigma project put him at odds with both the government and his fellow workers. Ultimately however it would prove to be a team effort, led by Turing’s undisputed mathematical genius that would finally crack the Enigma code and help end the war. With an outstanding lead performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is a commendable work of cinema that inspires as it informs reminding audiences that often the greatest heroes are the ones who fight behind the scenes.
APOLLO 13 (1995)- DIR. RON HOWARD
Dramatizing the events of the 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission, director Ron Howard’s film is a masterfully crafted odyssey of technical achievement and the spirit of human endurance. When an on board explosion cripples the spacecraft’s oxygen and electrical supply, the planned Moon landing is quickly aborted while the Earth bound scientists at NASA struggle to find a way to bring their astronauts home alive. Featuring the now famous line of “Houston, we have a problem”, Apollo 13 is tense and utterly fascinating and indeed makes audiences question the outcome. With an all star cast including Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Ed Harris, the film won the Academy Awards for Best Editing and Best Sound, while being nominated for Best Picture.
Effectively capturing the time period (and the excited mood in America after the first two moon landings in 1969), as well as the technology and inner workings of NASA, much of the film’s dialogue was taken from official transcripts between ground control and the astronauts. Undoubtedly a masterwork of technical cinema, Apollo 13 also shines as a well documented tribute to the pioneers of space travel and the inherent risks associated with it.
SPOTLIGHT (2015) DIR. TOM MCCARTHY
A stunning exposé on the widespread sexual abuses by some clerics in the Catholic Church, Spotlight works as both a thrilling piece of cinematic investigative journalism and a commendable honouring of victims. Based on efforts by The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team of journalists to expose sex crimes in the Boston archdiocese, the film weaves a fascinating story of coverups and abuses of power, all while sensitively dealing with the emotional testimony of those who suffered in silence.
Featuring an all star cast including Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, and Rachel McAdams, Spotlight is indeed an important and informative movie about the fight for justice. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, director Tom McCarthy’s film is a poignant tribute to not only the journalists behind the headlines, but those who shared their story for the world to know.
JACKIE (2016)- DIR. PABLO LARRAIN
Set in the aftermath of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s film shines a spotlight on the titular Jackie Kennedy (1929-1994), the First Lady and now sudden widow. Faced with the intense shock and sorrow of witnessing her husband’s murder while attempting to balance her life as a mother and adored public figure, Jackie Kennedy came to exemplify a model of grace and dignity in the midst of such devastating grief. Starring an emotionally vulnerable Natalie Portman (which earned her an Oscar nomination as Best Actress), Jackie is indeed a moving film that captures another side of the tragic story of President Kennedy’s demise; the personal side.
Unlike such films like JFK (1991), which focus on the investigation and conspiracies surrounding the assassination, Jackie is a tender movie that highlights the human suffering behind the veil of the “Camelot” White House. Touching on themes like crises of faith, infidelity, and the spectacle of politics, this movie embraces the memory of the former First Lady through the lens of her darkest hour.
SILENCE (2016) DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE
Based on the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, Silence recounts the true history of Christian missionaries in 17th century Edo Japan. Aggressively persecuted by the ruling authorities, converts and the priests who come to evangelize lived a daily life of intimidation and uncertainty. Thousands would eventually be arrested, forced to renounce their beliefs, or even publicly executed in an attempt to sow fear into the general populace. In this film, the plight of two Portuguese Jesuits is specifically highlighted who travel to Japan to find their mentor, a former priest who renounced his faith in order to avoid execution.
Steadfast in their religious convictions yet confronted with the harsh reality of facing an openly hostile society, the clerics struggle with the “silence” of God in the face of such cruelty. Slow and contemplative, Silence is indeed a mature work of film that brings forward many themes like the clash of cultures, religious persecution, apostasy, and finding meaning in an evil world. Though not as flashy or downright entertaining like other Martin Scorsese films, Silence is a moving and worthy watch for anyone with even a passing interest in religious cinema and lesser known episodes of history.
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