Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Hill

When I first started writing this blog, I made myself a promise that I will not write posts where I will just write reviews for a particular film basically because I have a habit of checking any film out before watching it. I never watch any movie unless I have a good reason to watch it. And generally after this, I find it hard to criticize it even though in many cases I really want to throw eggs at it. In most cases, I have kept my promise though some movies are so special that I had to bend this rule for myself. The Sweet Hereafter (1998) was one such movie. Today, after watching The Hill(1965), I am making an exception as well. Both these movies moved me so much that I couldn’t pass the opportunity to write something about them and both these films are so original, so different from any other movie I have seen, that if I write something about them, it can only be a review. But I am taking this opportunity since it is too much for me to pass it on. However, I shall warn anyone reading this that if you have not seen this, there will be spoilers because it is written so tightly that if I leave even a single smaller part, I doubt this will diminish the effectiveness of whole film by many folds. So, proceed at your own risk.

I recently stumbled upon “How Many of Woody Allen's Favorite Films Have You Seen?” written by Brad Brevet. The Hill(1965), making the list in his favorite American Films. I also had many of Sidney Lumet’s other films in my wish-list for quite some time now. So, I decided to watch this along with others as Serpico(1973) and Long Day’s Journey into the Night(1962). Lumet made this film during first of his two most successful artistic periods in his career (Second period being from 1973-1978, where his films including Network(1976) and Dog Day Afternoon(1975), accumulated staggering 31 Oscar nominations in 6 years, getting nominated every year and winning 6 of them).

Adapted from play by Ray Rigsby and R.S. Allen by Rigsby himself, The Hill is about five new prisoners in british disciplinary prison in North Africa and their fight to survive prison and their guards. Sean Connary is in the central character of Joe Roberts, demoted in the army for disobeying the direct order and sent to the prison for beating up his commanding officer. Staff Sergent Williams is Jailer of this prison who believes that his job is to make his prisoners MEN again to be sent back into army. Therefore, He relies on grueling, physical tasks, even though monotonous and pointless, to achieve this. Climbing up and down The 'Hill' made up of Sand and Dirt is most popular of those tasks.  Sergent Wilson is ferocious guard in-charge of these prisoners who enjoys  breaking men down. There is also Sergent Charlie Harris, more humane of the guards, who tries to limit Wilson's atrocities but always ends up failing because Staff Sergent Williams believes in Wilson's methods. There is also a medical officer, who always wants to do the right thing but almost every time has to bend down to Staff Sergent's authority.
However, all the hell breaks loose when Sgt. Wilson goes little too far is his sadistic treatment and one if the prisoners, George Stevens, dies. Staff Sergent Williams is not the one to disown his deputies and he tries to cover it up by pressurizing medical officer yet again to put it down as accidental death. However, Roberts doesn't shut down quietly. He thinks that Wilson killed Stevens and wants Wilson punished for his brutal behavior. Even Harris has had enough and stands behind prisoners to launch formal complaint and medical officer joins in as well when pushed hard enough by both sides. Other cellmates of Roberts, King and McCarthy stand firmly behind Roberts as well in the end.
This is not a typical good guys vs bad guys story. Roberts is not a typical hero and so is Wilson or Williams not a typical villain. Guards believe Roberts to be a Coward because of his disobedience which might have killed him and men under him. He believes that Man can not just follow any and every order given to him like machine but still believes that if there are no rules there will be no army. On the other hand, Williams is trying to break the spirit of all the prisoners because he believes that is the way they can become Men again. One of the prisoners, Jecko King, even though is constantly demeaned for being of different color, is the only one who stands behind Robert since start. However Williams favor-ism drives him crazy in the end. Another Cellmate McCarthy, keeps on fidgeting between for and against Roberts while Bartlett is the first one to jump the ship at the first notion of discomfort.

It is not what happens but How it happens is what makes The Hill a great film to watch. Once the prisoners start fighting against the authorities, it becomes so fast paced that it not give you time to breathe, but at no point it looses its grip. It keeps you compelled till the last moment, which in my opinion is a very realistic ending. All the characters are so well defined that even though some of them have short parts, they play very significant role in developing the story. Film does not have any background score and only place we see in the whole movie is prison in that desert. There are no special effects used in the background to help the story. All the importance is on the characters and story and dialogues. Especially in the last hour, there are lot of dialogues but that does not make film boring or heavy, they rather direct the story beautifully. Also cinematography helps a great deal to set up the feel of movie.

Rating(out of 5):


  1. Wow. This film sounds really good. And if it's by Sidney Lumet, that means I have to at least try to find it. Great review!

  2. I was lucky to find it in my university library. I haven't really tried finding it anywhere else. I hope You find it. It is definitely worth an effort. Thanks.


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