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Film / Hamburger Hill

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Hamburger Hill is a 1987 American Vietnam War film starring Courtney B. Vance, Dylan McDermott, Steven Weber, Michael Boatman, Michael Dolan, Don Cheadle, and Anthony Barrile, about the actual assault of the U.S. Army's 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles," on a well-fortified position, including trenchworks and bunkers, of the North Vietnamese Army on Ap Bia Mountain in the A Shau Valley near the Laotian border. Philip Glass composed the soundtrack.

As with most historical events, the The Other Wiki has an article on the The Battle of Hamburger Hill

This film provides examples of:

  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype: Played straight with the educated and well spoken "Doc" Johnson, who is constantly commenting on issues of race to his white squadmates, along with frequent emotional outbursts. Subverted thoroughly as he is fiercely protective of the men, repeatedly risks his life to reach anyone who falls regardless of their color, and is close friends with several white troops, especially SGT Frantz.
  • Anyone Can Die: It being a war movie based on real-life events, a large chunk of the cast (including several major characters) don't make it through the movie.
  • Armor Is Useless: Discussed when SGT Worchester advises PVT Beletsky to ditch his heavy body armor because it won't do him any good where they're going, and Beletsky protests that in training they were told to wear it at all times.
    Sgt. Worchester: We had a short-timer once, Johnny I-Forget-His-Name. Wore two helmets, two flak jackets and armored underwear. A Shau Valley. If your time's up, your time is UP.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: The repeated charges up the hill.
  • Badass Creed: "Don't Mean Nothin'"
  • Band of Brothers: The paratroopers come from all kinds of different economic, racial, and religious backgrounds, but share the misery of combat in Vietnam and the ostracism that is waiting for them back home. Exemplified best in this exchange between SGT Frantz and a badly-wounded Doc Johnson, while waiting for the MEDEVAC helicopter:
    SPC Johnson: I’m just what the world needs. Another nigger with a limp.
    SGT Frantz: [Choking back tears] Come on, Doc.
    SPC Johnson: I'm not omitting you, Blood. We all no-good niggers on this hill.
  • Based on a True Story: The movie depicts the 101st efforts (who would suffer the most losses in the actual battle on the American side) in the battle of Hamburger Hill.
  • Battle in the Rain: The second to last battle takes place in a massive downpour.
  • Big "NO!": Some soldiers say this when their fellow soldiers die in battle.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The 101st takes the hill, but suffer terrible losses, the survivors are horribly scarred, and worst of all, the Army abandons the hill a month later.
  • Conscription: The draft, this being Vietnam and all. The 101st, however, only accepted volunteers.
  • Death from Above: Helicopter and fighter-bomber air support. Trope name doubles as motto for the 101st Airborne.
  • The Dreaded: A place as opposed to a person, the A Shau Valley, spoken of with obvious dread and respect by the veteran members of the squad, with one expressing his outright fear of it. When one of the replacements asks "What's the A Shau Valley?" he only gets a cold stare as a reply.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: A fatally wounded Worchester walks slowly toward Frantz during the final assault and just collapses into his arms, to expire seconds later with eyes wide open.
  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: Justified. It's the Vietnam War, and historically accurate.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: After we've witnessed a number of the main cast killed, the movie fades to the credits with the platoon's radio squawking and their off-screen CO asking for the platoon leader, platoon sergeant, 1st squad leader, since nobody is left to answer the call.
    CO: Red One-Six, this is Red Six, over. Red One-Six, this is Red Six, over. Red One-Six Alpha, this is Red Six, over. Red One-Six Alpha, this is Red Six, over. Red One-Six Charlie, this is Red Six, over. Red One-Six Charlie, this is Red Six, SITREP, over...
  • Friendly Fire: Happens in one scene when they call in air support, only to have them fire on their own men thinking they were enemy personnel.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Sergeant Frantz has very little faith in the Chieu Hoi program, sarcastically mentioning it in his lecture to FNGs. It's implied the constant shifting of sides is considered a norm by the veterans.
    Frantz: (Pointing at a Vietnamese instructor) This is Han (...) He came over on the Chieu Hoi programme. And he will go back there after he fattens on C-rations. And he will be hunting your young asses in the Ashau Valley.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Foot soldiers assaulting a hill that holds little strategic worth, full of entrenched enemies. Tragic, especially since it did in fact happen.
  • I Choose to Stay:
    • STG Worcester got medevaced after Dak To and was relieved from his service. Facing nothing but alienation and outright hostility back home, he volunteered to go back to Vietnam, finding it easier to deal with war than the crap being given for being a Vietnam veteran.
    • Beletsky gets shot during the 10th assault on the hill, receiving a million-dollar wound. He not only stays, but during the 11th assault he's one of the first soldiers to be on top of the hill. It's not made clear if he's send home after the battle.
  • Living Prop: Whilst the film takes the time to develop the characters of 1st Platoon's HQ and 3rd Squad. 1st and 2nd squads are played by non-named or speaking extras.
  • Manly Tears:
    • After the friendly fire incident, Gaigin breaks down upon seeing Duffy's body.
    • Realising you survived Bash Brothers partnership.
    • Shed over carnage of final scene.
  • New Meat: The movie opens with the FNGs being brought in to bolster the ranks.
  • N-Word Privileges: Racial slurs fly freely, though mostly from the black troops.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Frantz's arm at the beginning. Beletsky is also wounded late, but chooses to stay for the final assault.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: An enemy example. The squad follows a blood trail after an ambush to find an NVA soldier's abandoned equipment, including his helmet, canteen and wallet, but no actual body. Inside the wallet is the picture of a pretty young woman. The sergeant is unmoved, commenting that the victim was an "FNG-type, walking around the A Shau with a half-empty canteen" that made lot of noise. The new soldiers in the squad who see the picture are clearly thinking of their own girlfriends back home.
  • Precision F-Strike: Ray Motown recalls going back home and how he, while eating dinner, casually dropped an F-bomb on his mother to express how much he loved her cooking. Then, he found he couldn't stop himself and it turned into a Cluster F-Bomb.
  • Retirony Sgt. McDaniel is a short timer who hears a rumor that the squad is being sent back into the A Shau valley and asks his sergeant to find him a job back at the rear before they're sent in. Guess who is killed during the first assault on the hill.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: When showing the fresh troops how silent and deadly the NVA are vs. the VC, the instructor specifically tells them to forget about "(Victor) Charlie" and worry about "Nathaniel Victor."
  • Sergeant Rock: Master Sergeant Worcester has to both train up his new Platoon commander and hold the platoon together.
  • Serious Business: Properly brushing your teeth. Doc makes it explicitly clear why FNGs should take this as serious as every other soldier.
    Doc: If you want to walk outta this fucking place, you will listen to the people who know. You be an individual, and I'll be tagging your ugly toothless face on its way to a long box with metal handles.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Well, technically Sgt. Worcester.
  • Stern Teacher: Spc. Abraham Johnson. "Be an individual, and I'll be tagging your ugly toothless face straight to a long box with metal handles!"
    • Sgt. Frantz: "Some of you think you have problems because you're against the war. You demonstrated in school, you wear peace symbols on your steel, and you have attitudes. I'm an orphan, my brother's queer, the city of Chicago got the clap from my sister, Mom drinks, Dad coughs blood, I have ringworm, immersion foot, the incurable crud and the draft ruined my chances of being a brain surgeon. People, you are in Vietnam. You have no problems. Except me. And him."
  • Straw Civilian: Inept, naive, or downright hostile. Multiple characters have their relationships ruined by the anti-war movement at home, and at least one goes back to Vietnam after coming home to nothing but hostility from young hippies and college kids that have a Jane Fonda-like attitude toward the NVA (even calling them "heroic" and the US soldiers "evil"), to the point where they harass a bartender that had a son in Vietnam after he died.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Sgt. Worcester's monologue on anti-war protesters motivating him to volunteer for another tour.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: The Americans use M41 Walker Bulldog tanks throughout the movie, when they should be using M48 Pattons instead. The M41 was only used by the South Vietnamese during the war.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Several, in the aftermath of each of the eleven assaults up the hill. Sgt. Frantz gives one to Alphabet after the FNG's first battle, when the new meat looks for his sergeant's approval afterwards. "We got our cherries busted good today, didn't we?" Frantz's response, after giving the stare: "One of my people got killed. That's all that happened today." Also, At the end of the brutal fight up the hill, the three survivors all look back down at the charred, deforested hilltop littered with bodies from both sides with utterly empty, haunted expressions.
  • True Companions: The 101st
  • The Vietnam War
  • War Is Hell: It was called Hamburger Hill for a reason.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: The sign at the end.
  • We Have Reserves: The Army sends the 101st on 11 different charges up a heavily fortified position before finally taking the hill.
  • Wham Shot: Lt. Eden is calling in an artillery strike when his position is hit by a mortar. Sgt. Worchester rushes to help and finds him leaning against a tree, dazed but seemingly unharmed and still trying to give orders over the radio, unaware that the handset wire has been cut, the radio itself smashed, and his RTO is dead. Worchester administers first aid, which annoys Eden because he's busy. "Sir! Your arm." The camera pans down and Eden (and the viewer) sees that his right arm has been ripped off above the elbow.
  • White Guilt: Doc Johnson tries to evoke this in some of the white soldiers of the squad, but Beletsky throws it back in his face.
    Johnson: Surely, you must realize, that the brothers are here because they cannot afford an ed-u-cation.
    Beletsky: So what am I doing, sitting around in some fuckin' country club, sippin' Seven-and-Sevens and eating a steak? Take a look around, Doc. I see all kinds of white faces here.
    Johnson: Okay. The war started for you when you farted, and said good morning, Vietnam. Me? I was born into this shit.
    Beletsky: And they pulled that gold fuckin' spoon outta my mouth and sent me here so I could see how you low-class Eleven-Boos live, is that it?
    Johnson: [approaches Beletsky as if to fight, but holds out his hand] Brother blood.
    • Despite popular belief, statistical breakdown of American casualties in Vietnam shows that black troops were actually less likely to be killed or wounded than whites or Hispanics. Doesn't mean they didn't have legitimate grievances against racism, of course.
  • Worthy Opponent: "Survive twice, and you will call him MR. Nathanial Victor"
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: The breakup letter that Bienstock receives.