Ten best films about journalists in war zones

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Danish Siddiqui’s recent death in Afghanistan has shocked one and all. It has also brought to light the dangers associated with war reporting

Ten best films about journalists in war zones
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Murtaza Ali Khan

Without doubt, the frequent nature of wars in the 20th century gave the world some of its biggest celebrity war reporters. Some of these reporters ended up becoming famous writers. Ernest Hemingway was of course the most famous amongst them.

Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Danish Siddiqui’s recent death in Afghanistan has shocked one and all. It has also brought to light the dangers associated with war reporting. Suddenly, everyone is wondering what it’s like to be a journalist working in a war/conflict zone. Evidently, the 20th century also witnessed some of the finest films about reporters working in the war zones.

So let’s revisit some of those classics from the last century and try to understand what life is like for journalists operating from such regions.

1. Under Fire (1983)

This Roger Spottiswoode-directed war drama is set Nicaragua. Three journalists in a romantic triangle get involved in political intrigue during the last days of the corrupt Somozoa regime in the country before it falls to a popular revolution in 1979.

This film has one of the most mesmerizing background scores for war dramas and the performances are absolutely top-notch. Also, I just can't praise the cinematography enough. For a film with violence galore, Under Fire is totally watchable and can be enjoyed at different levels.

2. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

This Peter Weir classic is set in Indonesia. A young Australian reporter tries to navigate the political turmoil in the country during the rule of President Sukarno with the help of a diminutive photographer.

Here is another film with great music and wonderful performances. Since it's directed by Peter Weir one can be rest assured about the film's technical brilliance. The real USP of the film is the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver. And not to mention the American actress Linda Hunt who plays a male Chinese-Australian photographer and actually takes home an Oscar.

3. Salvador (1986)

This Oliver Stone directorial stars James Woods as a burnt-out photojournalist who becomes involved in a Central American revolution.

Salvador packs a strong punch with both Oliver Stone and James Woods working at the top of their games. Can one ask for anything more? The film features my second favourite James Woods performance (tied with ‘Videodrome’) and next only to his remarkable turn in Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America’. Woods is singularly gifted but is such an underrated actor. There is not an award in the world that I will not give him for his wonderful work in films during the ‘80s. In Salvador, he is in his element and few actors can match Woods’ timing and intensity when he is in his element.

4. The Killing Fields (1984)

This Roland Joffé classic is set in Cambodia. A journalist is trapped in the country during tyrant Pol Pot's bloody 'Year Zero' cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million 'undesirable' civilians.

Winner of 3 Oscars, The Killing Fields film is gritty, realistic, and packs a strong punch. Watch out for John Malkovich in a role that in many ways set him up for a stellar acting career.

5. Foreign Correspondent (1940)

This seminal work directed by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock set in the backdrop of the Second World War has inspired countless other films. The story follows a young American reporter who tries to expose enemy agents in London. Now, Foreign Correspondent is not the typical war drama like the other entries on this list but is more accurately a spy thriller. But nevertheless it brings us up close with the dangers that reporters working during WWII would have encountered.


6. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

This Stanley Kubrick classic is a very powerful anti-war film. The film’s entire first half is spent on the training of marines. But interestingly during the second half one of the Marines get appointed as a war correspondent in Vietnam for the American military newspaper Stars and Stripes. Here is a man serving both as a soldier as well as a journalist. But after he watches one of his best friends die, he is forced to put his camera aside and pick up his rifle.

7. The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)

The film is a tribute to the American infantryman ("G.I. Joe") during WWII. It’s told through the eyes of Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle, with dialogue and narration lifted from Pyle's columns. Pyle specialized in writing minature portraits of the extraordinary things done by ordinary soldiers. But unfortunately he never got to see the final version of the movie. The film premiered two months after he was killed in action on Ie Shima during the invasion of Okinawa.

8. Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)

Inspired by true events, this Michael Winterbottom directorial follows a British journalist named Jimmy Flynn who adopts a young girl in Bosnia in order to get her out of the country at the beginning of the Bosnian war in Sarajevo. Watch out for Woody Harrelson who is superb in the role of Flynn.

9. Deadline (1987)

This Nathaniel Gutman-directed film starring Christopher Walken depicts what all can seriously go wrong with a journalist working in a working zone. Walken plays an Americam journalist named Don Stevens who is set up amidst the Lebanese Civil War and is fed false information.

10. The Parallax View (1974)

This Alan J. Pakula classic is actually not set in any conventional warzone. It was made at a time when America found itself in a miasma of doubt, mistrust, and uncertainty in the aftermath of JFK's assassination and the dubious looking investigation that followed. It is most definitely one of the best conspiracy theory films ever made. But the film is also about a reporter who finds himself caught in a political turmoil triggered by a senator's assassination. Warren Beatty is always a treat to watch and here again he doesn't disappoint

(Murtaza Ali Khan is a Delhi-based film critic / journalist. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic)

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