Under the Cover of Sunlight.

The Hill
Sidney Lumet, 1965

You can watch the whole thing on Youtube, which is, neat.

Five men arrive at a British Military Detention Camp in North Africa.  They are there for abandonment of duty, stealing, drinking, and insubordination and are there to be broken down and built up again.  They are put under the command of  a new staff named Williams whose only interest is in breaking them down.  This results in one of the men dying of exhaustion and the fight between Joe Roberts (Sean Connery) to expose it and Major Wilson (Harry Andrews, with the Howard Chaykin jaw line) who tries to cover it up.  That’s the most barebones plot synopsis and leaves out lots of stuff.  Here’s the Wikipedia.  It’s one of those ones that has bits of critique in the plot synopsis which I find amusing.

1.  The Hill and Full Metal Jacket

When I finished watching The Hill the first thought that came to mind was  that it was better than Full Metal Jacket, at least to me.  The point of comparison being that they’re both about military conditioning.  Jacket hits it from the angle of turning men into soldiers and stripping them of humanity while The Hill hits from the angle of men who were soldiers and slipped out of it.  The Hill works better for me because of that difference.  The problem with Jacket‘s approach is that the characters are never fleshed out and human to begin with.  It’s Kubrick, his characters were pretty facile, except for Alex, after he made 2001: A Space Odyssey.   His stuff is all about looking and admiring technique after that point and Jacket falls a little flat because of it.  The men, the prisoners to be more exact, of The Hill are in medias res, things happened to them, they did things, they stopped being soldiers.  They slipped back into humanity (in the flawed sense not the peaceful sense) and they are being punished for it.  Sent to the camp so that they can be re-trained/educated/brainwashed.  The point of comparison between the “model soldier” character and the “humane” character is within the film of The Hill and Jacket requires it between the audience and the characters in the movie (yes and between Joker and everyone else but that point of comparison doesn’t go very far because Joker isn’t much of a character.)  The cruelty of military brainwashing is contrasted against the viewer who would like to think they would be above it and the soldiers behavior towards the enemy, a visual non-entity.  The Hill works from the angle that these are people in the SAME army treating each other as the enemy.  British people hurting other British people like they were Nazis.

2.  Lumet knows how to work one location.

12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, and this film are the movie versions of the “Bottle Episode” (thank you Community, poo on myself for not looking up the actual film term) in as much as they pretty much all take place in a single location for the  majority of their run time.  And all directed by Lumet.    12 Angry Men and The Hill have the closet point of comparison and a major difference.  Heat.  The atmosphere, the intense anger and exhaustion of being hot and sweaty and tired.  Those 12 men boiled alive in the still hot air of that deliberation room.  Emphasis on still.  The Hill is hot too, the unfiltered sun of North Africa beats down on men constantly in motion.  Emphasis on motion.  There is barely ever any rest in The Hill.  Men run this way and that.  The camera is always moving constantly, moving YOU, running YOU.  The best example of this is when Stevens makes his solo run on the hill.  Williams puts a gas mask on him and as he runs the camera switches faster and faster between two POV shots.  One of Stevens running up the hill as if we were running right behind him and then of Stevens looking through the gas mask, breathing.  The actors and the extras had to do these drills in reality under a scathing Tunisian sun for the long uninterrupted takes that add pressure to a tense situation, for everybody on-screen and watching the events.

3.  The charismatic military man.

This is a war movie and a prison movie.  The brainwashing of the soldier and the conditioning of  prisoners get all bound up together because they are so similar in many ways.  The riot scene is a masterful piece of work.  They can’t really riot and he, Major Wilson I mean, knows that.  It’s a military  correctional prison.  To a degree it’s not real.  They are also still subject to the chain of command and the power exchange of the prison official and the prisoner.  It’s why he alone can diffuse the riot with such gusto because he knows all of this.  The only people who don’t know it are Roberts and King because they have yet to be reconditioned.  The oppressiveness of systems is strongly at work here.  Hopelessness the baseline emotion.  Flickers of hope extinguished, buried in muck.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2011


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