This weekend, as we come together to celebrate Independence Day, let's do our best to remember what this holiday is all about. It's more than merely dodging DWI checkpoints on your way home from backyard barbecues and trying to decide between the Jon & Kate + 8 or Deadliest Catch marathons on TV; it's also about embarrassingly overwrought displays of jingoism. Here are but a few cinematic examples.
5. Rocky IV (1985)
The Cold War saw many proxy battlefields: Jadotville, Congo; the Bay of Pigs; Lubango, Angola...yet perhaps no more decisive skirmish was fought than in Moscow, USSR. There, two mismatched heavyweights (one 5'9", one 6'5"), their punches landing like ICBMs, decided the fate of the globe. Make no mistake about it, Gorbachev wasn't cowed by Reagan's demands to "tear down this wall," but by the very real possibility that Rocky could demolish it with his bare hands.
4. Heartbreak Ridge (1986)
Remember that movie where a tough-as-nails badass reigns in a bunch of punk recruits, molding them into an effective fighting machine just in time for the climactic battle? Heartbreak Ridge is a lot like that, except with much more homoeroticism (Clint makes at least a half dozen references to taking warm showers with other men) and the not so subtle political agenda of romanticizing the "liberation" of Grenada, a military operation largely designed to distract us from Reagan's retreat from Lebanon.
3. The Green Berets (1968)
The dumbest thing about this, one of the Duke's more egregious cinematic missteps, isn't a line like "Out here, due process is a bullet," or the stock war movie cliches (an Irishman named "Muldoon!"), or that apparently Vietnam has pine trees. No, it's the way Vietnames children are allowed free access to American Army bases. Maybe if the Green Berets weren't so busy building public infrastructure and winning hearts and minds they'd have been able to post a few sentries.
2. The Patriot (2000)
The producers scrambled to disassociate Mel Gibson's character from its original inspiration, Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion, largely due to allegations that Marion was a "serial rapist" who hunted Indians for sport. These accusations came primarily from UK sources, who seem to have gotten the crazy idea that the British are portrayed unsympathetically in Gibson's movies.
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1. Pearl Harbor (2001)
The worst patriotic movies are those that confuse respect for your country's achievements with the need to paint everything it has ever done in a favorable light. According to American auteur Michael Bay, the Doolittle Raid was an overwhelming success, Hawaii was primarily Anglo (not that it would have mattered, for in Bay's view racism was a minor historical hiccup), and one of the most significant events in American history is reduced to background noise for a Falcon Crest-level love story. Forget remaking The Birds, Bay needs to snap up the rights to Triumph of the Will.