Director: John Irvin
Writer: W.W. Vought
Cinematographer: Thomas Burstyn
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1
The next day, Earning takes the team on the patrol. They’re in a fog heavy forest, warned that they are now only a few hundred meters from the enemy. Sandy gets lost in the fog, separated from the other soldiers. Soon he sees figures emerging from the woods; the enemy. He hides and they stop near him, thinking they heard something, before wandering off. He breathes a sigh of relief. We have all had moments in our lives where we didn’t want to get caught, out of absolute fear of the consequences. Irving comes as close as anyone to capturing the fear of knowing you’re either going to jail, or more likely, getting killed.
Later, he returns and a hot meal is getting served. Experience has demonstrated that this means they’re going on the offensive the next day. The fresh recruits, including Sandy, all look around, smoking, and share a couple of laughs. It’s not a forced scene to give you a superficial taste of camaraderie. It’s a very real moment of shared fear, excitement, and humor. Statistically, one of the four is going to die. Given their lack of experience, they all seem to grasp that it’ll probably be more.
In a great shot, starting in wide, we see the troops entering the woods, the camera tilts down and we start following a foot, walking on the dead leaves. And then we see the first land mine trigger, hidden in the ground. Addd are the .88’s in the distance. Within moments, they both open up. The blood effects aren’t as terrifying as Saving Private Ryan, but they do the job. The soldiers are slaughtered and within minutes retreat back, only to be told they have to go forward. There’s no arguing. The Captains know what it means.
It’s another brilliant moment where we see how difficult the job of Captain, or any leader really is. He’s just taking orders from those who received them, to pass them down to his Sergeants, who’re equally reserved about having to pass them on. Everyone knows what it means. Except we also grasp the fear in Sgt. Earning, along with his Captain Roy Pritchett (Martin Donovan). They too will face death, except showing as much courage as they can muster. I suppose the promise Pritchett makes to Earning about getting a Section 8 Discharge was a little heavy, but it does far more good than bad. He’s told if he takes his fresh recruits behind the line to destroy the guns, he can receive the Section 8.
The next offensive is launched and they flank the .88s. Sandy and his fellow soldier (don’t know the name) both have flame flowers. When the covering fire is provided, Earning tells them to rush. Sandy does the job with terrifying energy, screaming his lungs out as he sets fire to the German soldiers. His friends attempt to run away and Earning, without hesitation, shoots the flame pack and blows him up. We’re appalled and don’t completely understand. It’s only when Sandy says if he didn’t do it they would have all died that we completely understand. Some might not have seen it this way. Some might have grasped it from the moment he killed the deserter. But there was something with Sandy describing the action; a transformation in his character that really drove the point home. Like the 25% who would die, it was another necessary casualty.
And then the tanks arrive. And just when they thought it was over, the carnage continues. In another sequence reminiscent of Paths of Glory (and in the best way possible) they wait for night to fall, cut their way through barbed wire, and attack the ,88’s from the rear. With patience and painstaking intensity, Irving shows Earning cut each of the strands of barb wire, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Eventually he succeeds and they attack a supply truck, and subsequently the tanks. They win the offensive. For now. And only Sandy survives.
When you read the history it’s even more tragic. Over 60,000 lives lost in a battle that is hardly remembered. And the one film that attempted to memorialize it has met the same fate. I’m confident that it will soon join the ranks of the films mentioned. It’s that good. It’s a treasure that was a thrill to find.
BELOW: Posting again, mostly because there isn't much else to find
Thoughts on films, old and new
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