One Hard Movie
D. Walker | Maryland | 04/30/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most intelligent and honest (not to mention beautifully filmed) movies I've seen in ages. Anyone depressed by Sean Connery's recent whorishness needs to look at this one. It's by far his greatest film."The Hill" that gives the movie its name is a device of torture built by prisoners in the Libyan desert: a pyramid of stone, sand and corrugated iron, which looks like a vestige of some ancient, barbaric age. Prisoners who violate the letter or "spirit" of the British Army's antiquated rules are forced to hump double-time over the hill in full pack, in the searing mid-day sun, endlessly, until they drop. On its sides men are broken--hollowed out--and obedient robots are made."The Hill" is, in my opinion, the most powerful WWII film ever made--yet not one bullet is fired in its two-plus hours. The drama and the terror of this film are in the war of character, of wills: the violence of psychological destruction. If this sounds boring to you, you should know that the film draws you in quickly with its stark premise (a disgraced NCO enters a detention camp for incorrigible soldiers, and antagonizes the sadistic staff-sergeant), then cuts deeper and deeper and does not flinch for an instant. This movie has a spine harder than the sun-blasted rock of "the hill" itself.The maniacal inflexibility of leadership--particularly in wartime, and especially among noncombatants eager to prove their "toughness"--has been the theme of several great movies. This may be the greatest. Its atmosphere is more convincing than other prison/boot-camp flicks ("Full Metal Jacket," "Midnight Express," etc.), and its photography and editing have enormous impact--all without resort to stylization or even a musical score. The final brilliance is in the casting. It helps, of course, that most of the actors are unfamiliar to American viewers, but even the well-known ones inhabit their roles completely. Ossie Davis, for instance, is brilliant as a Caribbean prisoner who is forced to the conclusion that his white commanders are absurd and contemptible, unworthy of his obedience.
British character actor Harry Andrews (of the equine teeth and chin) does a vivid turn as the Sergeant-Major of the prison camp. He has to carry a lot of metaphorical baggage--all the sick, ossified Victorian sanctification of rules and ritualized manliness--on his lantern-jaw, yet he carries it off with surprising subtlety. (For instance: watch his face during the aborted prison riot, when the fear creeps into his smile as he realizes his junior officer may a psychopath).Connery, the "star" of the ensemble, is a revelation. As the officer imprisoned for having defied a homicidally stupid order--and who still could not save his men--Connery adds a hint of survivor's guilt to the rage and perplexity simmering behind the resigned posture and sarcastic bluster. He's a hulk of a man, a field-hardened warrior, yet his lip trembles a bit as he steps out of rank--into the killing zone of the prison disciplinarians--to give evidence against an officer suspected in an inmate's death.He has reason to be afraid. The officer he accuses, as played by Ian Hendry, is a meager, rail-thin fragment of a man, but what there is of him is iron-hard: a flesh and bone stiletto of cold savagery. Had a big man, like the ogreish Paul Smith of "Midnight Express," been cast in the role, the conflict would have lost its dimensions and richness. It would have been reduced to a physical contest. Hendry's sergeant tells us all we need know about the misuse of authority, about the inadequate, half-mad creatures who can flourish within a rigid power-structure and use it to destroy far stronger, smarter, braver men. This sergeant's eyes hide in the shadow of his cap, and his voice and poise are almost feminine, but his chin is set and he knows the Structure's weaknesses and rules, chapter and verse. He exploits the Army's Victorian pieties (discipline, industry, clean-mindedness) to brutalize others, and in him those virtues become obscene.Hendry despises the prisoner Stevens (who carries love letters from his wife) for his sentimentality, and for other, darker reasons, and he uses the Hill to exterminate him. Now we see the truth Connery saw long before, that the Devil hides in the rules, and in the absence of checks and balances insubordination may be a man's only duty. Unfortunately the other men cannot share his insight--or see that Hendry is just the symptom, not the disease--and the ending, as often in honest movies of this sort, is despairing. In a final, devastating twist, Connery is forced to watch helplessly as history repeats itself.Regrettably, what is true for history does not hold for art, for films. They don't make them like this anymore. Probably never will again."
Mesmerizing film, not just for subject, but for all aspects
Banitac | Lawton, OK United States | 01/31/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When shall we see a DVD of this most wonderful and sadly forgotten film of uninhibited control's--not necessarily war's--inevitable brutality. You will uncover few richer and more vulnerable Sean Connery performances on record. But unlike most of Sean's star vehicles, this powderkeg menaces on all fronts. One feels the tortuous heat of the punishing hill in the British prison, the strained nobility of seasoned soldiers treated with contempt by their captors, the unspoken psychological tremors beneath "Williams'" foreboding surface...Cinematography is fabulous, lack of musical score intensifies the drama's isolated setting.Buy this film--campaign for the uncensored (uncut) DVD."
An absolute masterpiece - in every sense
John McCormack | Liverpool, England | 12/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Each time I watch The Hill I am stunned. This is a deeply intelligent film. The acting, script, story, direction and photography have rarely been equalled. I don't think there is a single weak link, line, or player in this gripping story of human nature under stress.There is no easy way out in this movie, no fail safe cliches or sentimental heroics. "Mutinous" prisoners baying the name of a dead soldier are cowed and brought to heel, by a NCO, who knows full well how to gain control of a crowd.Each time, you think justice will out, cynical men carefully pull the strings, bark the orders, and carefully manipulate the men to perform their bidding. Each character grows, each role has depth, each offers insight into the way any of us might react to such circumstances. No one is idealised. Even Roberts laughs at Stevens at one crucial point.Strange, the director conveys such brutality and corruption but rarely needs any obscenity in the script. I only realised that half way through the film. I have a great love for Euripides, the Athenian playwright of 484-406 BC, whose ironic tragedies question the accepted brutality in 'civilised' society at war. I think The Hill does the same and to the same superb standard."
Unsettling, claustrophobic and fearful
robert nt stewart | 10/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a film which will haunt you long after you see it. Several desperate soldiers are trapped in a desert 'glasshouse' guarded by sadistic guards who force the prisoners to charge repeatedly up a dune carrying sandbags until exhaustion overcomes them (a la Sisyphus). The film follows the inmates attempts for justice - either through violence or their own sense of innocence. Easily one of my favourite B&W films: the acting is 'heroic', the B&W cinematography unsurpassed and the plot is tragic and intense. Connery's greatest film."