Sunday, May 22, 2011

When Trumpets Fade

John Irvin, 1998 (8.4*)
Memorial Day War-athon #1
Originally shot for HBO tv, this fine war film stars Ron Eldard as David Manning, who starts off as a private reluctant to risk his life, but who finds himself promoted due to attrition around him. He's suddenly burdened with increasing responsibilities he does not want, as he's really a cynic about the value of losing lives for what appears to be meaningless gains. Meanwhile his unit suffers catastrophic losses attempting to fight into Germany in late 1944. Based on a true story, the Hurtgen Forest Battle, where 24,000 soldiers died.

Manning's dilemma both contrasts and parallels that of his company commander (much of this film has parallel lines, or is circular in nature), Captain Pritchett (Martin Donovan), who has to balance achieving the objectives or his orders from above and keeping as many of his men alive as possible, and he seems to be failing at both. Unlike Private Ryan, the replacement troops here are all green recruits with no combat experience yet, which seems more realistic in a war of attrition. Dwight Yoakam plays the nameless battalion commander who is unapologetic about driving his men to the slaughter, but whose face betrays the weight of the death of subordinates under his command.

When Trumpets Fade reveals combat at its most gruesome and frustrating as Captain Pritchett's company batters itself against its target with nothing to show for the courage and bravery of the men but mounting casualties; this has to be a universal condition of war, as those losing must feel even greater angst. When we get to see the enemy, we see hopelessness in the face of a German squad leader portrayed by Frank-Michael Köbe, a man who knows that he is fighting only to postpone the inevitable, and to perhaps die heroically before facing the end as an army in total defeat.

Very good war action, though gritty, realistic, and depressing, but nonetheless an excellent war film, especially for tv. Many compare this film to Patton, it's certainly not the same scale or budget, but is just as much a revealing portrait of the carnage of war on both sides, victors and vanquished. George Patton once said, "I have but one military strategy - try to annihilite the enemy before he annihilates us"; this film seems all to aware of that philosophy.


Anonymous,  June 13, 2011 at 7:17 AM  

A must watch war movies which is same rating as saving private Ryan.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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