Life Requires Sacrifice: A Review of ‘The White Helmets’

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“All lives are precious and valuable”

Rating: ★★★★

Oscar Winner: Best Documentary (Short Subject)

The Syrian refugee crisis is a topic that is being widely discussed around the world. Pretending it hasn’t become fuel for political propaganda would be wrong of me, so I will briefly talk about that before reviewing the documentary. We’ve seen politicians talking about how our countries are “full” so we can’t help out those in need, and how refugees are “dangerous” and should “go back to where they came from”. I find it difficult to remain impartial when I see no evidence to back up these claims. When you’re greeted with a horrible situation like this, it’s hard not to think about what you’d do if your country suddenly became a war zone. It infuriates me when people act like refugees want to risk their lives and leave behind everyone and everything they’ve known, so they can feel safe again. It is a choice no one would ever want to make, but know they had to if they had any hope of survival. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand why you’d speak so rudely and dismissively of people who have lost their homes, workplaces, many of their loved ones, friends… the list goes on.

But this isn’t an essay on my political views, and regardless of your own views I believe this film is worth a watch as it provides a very gritty, and very real look at what’s going on in Syria. I hope it instills some compassion in you, even if it’s just a small amount.

The White Helmets is a Netflix original documentary with a runtime of just 40 minutes. It centres around a group of volunteer rescue workers who come from a variety of backgrounds.The film features a variety of talking heads, all members of The White Helmets and people that experience atrocities every single day. They’re very honest about their experiences and all have harrowing stories to tell. The on screen titles show the spectator the jobs these individuals used to have, and it broke my heart every time I saw a lost career flash on screen. Much like the volunteers we see in our societies, many of these people have no experience and are willing to put the lives of others above their own. So far they’ve saved over 82,000 men, women and children, and 154 members have been killed in their attempts to save others. One of the men in the documentary explains that he wants to “save everyone, young or old” because “he considers them to be his family”.

Director Orlando von Einsiedel doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality; this isn’t a film where things will be presented to you through rose coloured glasses and pretty editing. This is a film where you’ll witness screaming child, every falling bomb, every panicked voice. There is a scene where you’ll see a one week old baby being lifted from underneath rubble, and another where you’ll see a child begging his dying father not to leave him. There is no sugarcoating here. The film deals with so much that it’s hard to believe it has such as short runtime, and I found it to educational and important despite its length. It provides its audience with a very frank discussion about the war torn country that was enough to bring me to tears. It was exactly what I expected from the documentary, I knew this wouldn’t be one to sit back and watch with a bag of popcorn, it was one that I had to focus on and treat with respect.

I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to sit here and criticise the film as this is certainly a film where the story comes first, and the quality of the production second. It’s so important that we identify with the people on screen as fellow human beings, and I believe The White Helmets did this perfectly. I cared about everyone I was watching and I wanted to hear their stories, no matter how painful they may be. I do wish the film had been a bit longer and had gone into more detail about certain things, but this is a minor criticism and does not detract from the importance of the film.

The Oscars is often filled with stories of escapism and glamour, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that, I was pleased to see a film like The White Helmets honoured with an award. Films can be used as educational tools as well as entertainment, after all. If you want to learn more about the crisis these people are facing, I urge you to watch this film. It is not an easy watch, but I believe it’s a necessary one.

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The official website for The White Helmets: 

https://www.whitehelmets.org/en

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Come Visit ‘Lucy Goes To Hollywood’ :

Kendall Lacey's Webworld

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Got time for a new movies blog? Of course you do, this is the Internet where your time is well spent listening to us writers talk about movies, music, magic etc etc. Now my friend Lucy has thrown her very talented hat into the ring with her new blog Lucy Goes To Hollywood which is set to discuss and look at all kinds of cinema that she loves and she has the same sort of love of variety as me, with her top ten movies ever ranging from the darkness of the original Saw to Pixar’s The Incredibles.
The blog is all new, but head over there now to read her excellent review of Trainspotting 2 and her list of Top Ten Movies Of All Time. Both are great reads – in case you think I am just hyping her because she is my friend, i should note that her…

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T2 Trainspotting: Choose Life, Choose a Fucking Good Sequel

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“So, Mark, what have you been up to? For 20 years?”

Rating: ★★★★★

Feel free to debate me on this one, but Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting is the most anticipated sequel we’ve had in a long time. Loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s novel Porno, and set 20 years after the original, the film follows the adventures of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie, who captivated audiences and caused mass controversy due to their addictive, psychopathic and hedonistic personalities back in 1996. Some argued that the original film glamorised drug use, some argued it was so repulsive and bleak that it worked better than any anti-drug advertisement ever could. The film is like Marmite, but you can’t argue that it didn’t massively influence cinema as we know it, with its R-Rated content, its amazing soundtrack, and its gritty yet stunning cinematography. Even if you haven’t seen the first film, you’ve probably seen one of the scenes, such as Renton’s big monologue in the opening sequence or him hallucinating falling into a toilet. These scenes will forever be iconic, and for good reasons.


With any sequel, you can’t help but wonder if it was necessary. Too often filmmakers seem to cash in on the franchise and make an average film with the original title splashed across all the posters. Of course, T2: Trainspotting was no different. When they announced they were making it, I had mixed emotions. On one hand I was excited to see them back in action, and I was excited to hear Danny Boyle was back behind the camera again, as he’s one of my favourite directors. On the other, my brain thought: “Can they REALLY pull off a sequel? The first one was so good that they can’t afford to mess this one up”.

Thankfully, they didn’t, and when I sat down in the cinema I was presented with a sequel that was on par with the original film. In all honesty, it was like the characters had never left. They were familiar, yet older, and exactly where we expected them to be. T2: Trainspotting alludes to important moments seen in the first film without feeling forced, reminding us of key events and making us wonder how they’ve impacted the characters. Renton returns to Scotland after stabbing his friends in the back to find Begbie in prison, Spud feeling suicidal, and Sick Boy continuing to live a life of crime. It’s as bleak as the first film, and rightly so.

The performances in T2: Trainspotting are commendable, particularly Robert Carlyle’s performance as Francis Begbie. If you thought he was terrifying in the original film, just wait until you see him now. In a similar fashion to infamous horror villains, he provides several nail-biting moments where you’re not sure what’s going to happen next. Likewise, Ewen Bremner should be praised for his performance as Spud. He steals the limelight in a good way, as Boyle places much more focus on him as opposed to how he was portrayed in the original film. After watching this I felt like I understood Spud more, and that it wasn’t just about Renton anymore, it was about the people he’d left behind too.

Now, for the burning question: is the soundtrack as good as Trainspotting’s? My answer is yes. I wouldn’t say it was better but it certainly worked with the film, something that Danny Boyle has always proven he can do. I’m yet to find a film soundtrack of his that I dislike; he certainly has a gift for including the right songs at the right moments. Expect songs from Blondie, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Clash and more. Trust me – it’s good.

It’s up to you whether or not you trust the opinion of a 21-year-old, considering I was one when the original Trainspotting came out. But as a huge fan of Boyle and his other films (including Shallow Grave, 127 Hours, 28 Days Later) I expect very high quality from him, and it was clear he gave his all to this project. After watching and studying Trainspotting several times in college and university, I’m familiar with how much of an important film it is, and how any follow up film had to be treated with respect.

It’s nostalgic, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s terrifying, it’s disgusting, it’s graphic, it’s the sequel Trainspotting deserved.

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