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Once upon a time in northern France on late summer night in 1944, there was
a sergeant in his mid-twenties, an armorer who normally fixed the big guns
when they broke down or cleared hangfires from them. ("Lonely goddamn work,
I'll have you know.")
When his turn in the rotation came up every few nights, he would man the forward-observer post duty for the artillery battalion in which he served. He and a private went forward with binoculars and a field telephone to call in fire missions if they saw anything moving. And that particular night they did: Like silent spectres out of the darkness came a handful of German infantryman who, even in the poor light and from hundreds of yards away, were staggering with exhaustion, hungry, dirty. A mess wagon came forward and set up to feed them what must have been their first hot meal in days or even weeks. Patton's advance had been pressing them eastward across France without letup.
"Sarge? Aren't you gonna call this in?"
"No. Not yet. Let's let those poor sons of bitches finish their chow first."
When the Germans had finally eaten their fill, a couple had lit cigarettes, and the mess wagon was turning around to leave, Dad finally called the battery plotter with the coordinates. He made the German soldiers and the mess wagon disappear in a rain of 155-mm howitzer shells.
At the time the movie finally made it to cable, Dad had only a few months to live. When I saw this movie, I couldn't get that story of his out of my head. Knowing how bitter and disgusted he felt about the war -- "I was a political prisoner of Franklin Delano Roosevelt" was how he put it -- I realized that this movie was too powerful for him to see.
I realize this is more a personal anecdote than a remark about the movie per se, but it says something about the tone and impact of Gordon and Wharton's story that I was finally able to understand, just a little bit, why I saw Dad sitting alone at the breakfast table in the middle of the night, chain-smoking in the darkness, for all those decades. And the horrific glimpse this film gave me sobers me to this day.
In memoriam: Amzi R. McClain (1920-1999), T/Sgt, Batt A 721st FA Btn 66th Inf Div 1943-1945
This movie was on Bravo last night but was terribly edited so I stopped watching and stuck my video taped copy into the VCR. This movie truly grew on me over time. I had planned to see it in the theater in, I think 1993, when it was released but it was in theaters for such a brief time that I lost my opportunity. I'm very happy to see that other posters here were also profoundly affected by this movie. The first time I'd seen it I was dumbstruck and truly didn't know what to make of it. Like many, I'd been fed a steady diet of WW2 movies with John Wayne, William Holden, Richard Widmark, and the like. They were all of a jingostic testosterone bent and featured stirring musical scores, minimal blood, and happy endings, as in all the Germans/Japanese die. This was the first WW2 movie I'd ever seen that dispensed with all that crap and gave you a sense of how war makes victims of everybody, sparing no one it's violent assault on our sanity. For this Keith Gordon/William Wharton, Mike Nichols/Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegaut, James Jones, Norman Mailer, John Hersey should all be praised for their courage to discard ideological dogma and poignantly lament our violated humanity. They may have, dare I say, stepped upon an enlightend plain where even Steven Spielberg has yet to trod. His movies are remarkable presentations of events, but do not explore any issues that might touch upon this theme of the individual, powerless, human suffering in war time. They are far more traditional morality plays. In short this movie makes you truly feel sorrow for these dead, good intentioned German (Nazi) Soldiers who wanted nothing more than to end their misery as fodder in der Fuherer's army. I was struck By the scene in which Will Knott stares into the eyes of the German officer who's face betrays a million nightmarish images of the Russian front and perhaps some horrible deeds for which he has paid a dear price in guilt worthy of Macbeth. This was one of many scenes which conveyed so much with out a single line of script. Just the faces of the experience guiding the viewer. Mark Ishams fantastic musical score helped quite a bit to. For those who hated this movie, I'm not sure what to say. If your looking for a very heavy-handed war movie this is not for you. If, however, you appreciate the deft and delicate hand in conveying a powerful message and making a powerful statement, than you will be richly rewarded by a movie you will never forget.
There is the classic, or `Golden Age,' of WWII based movies, from the 50s, 60s and 70s; and then there is the age of ultra-realism: those movies about WWII (or any war for that matter), that because you can show more on film, be more graphic in war's depiction, and because cinema has changed so much, it allows us to see more of how war actual was, instead of the watered down versions we had been getting for years. Don't get me wrong. When most of us speak of such classics like `Sands of Iwo Jima,' `The Longest Day,' or `A Bridge Too Far' (and so many other great WWII movies), we are perfectly right to sing our praises of such timeless standards. Nevertheless, there is a good chance that we should be even more grateful for these modern WWII gems that have raised the bar to permit us a closer glimpse of how this war really felt to those who fought in it. I suppose all I can say at this point would be to watch `A Midnight Clear,' and perhaps you would understand why I would choose this movie to be ranked only behind the likes of `Band of Brothers' and `Saving Private Ryan.' Then watch some other modern ultra-real WWII flicks like `When Trumpets Fade,' `Das Boot' and maybe even `Cross of Iron;' and then gauge for yourself. `A Midnight Clear,' though not really smacking of anti-war themes, yet showing the futility and absurdity that only propels us to hold our breath; it is a perfect example of not only reality, but of how a WWII movie works with probably no more than 50 rounds fired throughout the whole film. Poetic (though not as much as `The Thin Red Line'), great dialog, and a premise that is built much on fact. Largely based upon a true story, and taken from the book by a WWII veteran that was actually there, this movie keeps great company among the new ultra-real films; and it simply moves me. I hope it moves you, as well. 9.4
Keith Gordon's film about war, friendship, humanity, and irony, A
MIDNIGHT CLEAR, is one of the greatest war film ever made. This is a
film that is refreshing, original, brilliant, disturbing, and extremely
well made. It's about a group of World War II GIs trying to scout out a
German GI camp located a few meters away from their location. They
manage to avoid getting too close to actually coming in contact, but
when they are spotted one day and not shot, they begin to suspect that
the Germans want to have a truce and surrender. They must decide what
is the right thing to do. However, their incompetence and fear of
confusing their distraught fellow soldier Mother(Gary Sinse) may be a
serious detriment. This film has an excellent opening sequence. it
starts with the sound of bells and singing slowing transforming into a
loud scream and then we see a scene filled with true suffering as Gary
Sinse cries over his trauma of his child dying as he tears off his
clothing while another GI tries to calm him down. With haunting
scenery, great acting, and several underlying themes, the film doesn't
feel overdone or over accomplished. It has almost a Kurt Vonnegut feel
to it that brings a good sense of fresh air to this allegory. The film
is flawless. It's definitely a sleeper hit. Check it out. its a keeper.
NOTE: If you can, track down the DVD, because the commentary track and the deleted scenes are definitely a must see and hear. It's a shame that a lot of these scenes were cut out because they definitely add little more humanity to an already very human story. A lot of people don't recommend the DVD because it's full screen, but personally, a film is a film. If i can see the actors, the scenery, the actions, and the image, I'm alright. It's not like the quality is bad or anything. It'd be hard to make this film look bad though.
First off, If you haven't yet seen this film, I recommend you do so ASAP. But, considering A Midnight Clear is underrated and relatively unknown, anyone reading this message has most likely already seen the film. Not only is the acting brilliant and emotionally charged, the premise is excellent as well. Set in 1944, this small intelligence group is forced to report on any pending, incoming German attacks, something that turns to mystery and evidently reveals the true horrors of war. Combined with an innovative director and a wonderfully tragic score, I must say A Midnight Clear is one of my favorite war movies, second only to Glory in my opinion. Others on my list would include Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Braveheart, Black Hawk Down, The Bridge Over the River Kwai and Schindler's List (if that can be considered a war film). To say that this movie tops all those others is an incredible testament to its greatness.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's a lot of mixed comments floating around out there concerning this
film. I'd consider myself a war film fan. Now, at the time of this writing,
if you look at my user comments most of those reviews are for Italian trash
flicks. But I own a good 250+ war films; this is one of those that stuck
Ethan Hawke takes a patrol (made up of scared kids) to a French house during the Battle of the Bulge. Their mission is basically to snoop around for German activity. They run into a squad of equally scared teenage soldiers, and arrange a mutual peace. But at the last moment, something goes wrong...
While at least 70% of war movies rely on loud explosions and gunfire, fast-moving action, quick cutting and other action to keep the viewer involved in the story, A MIDNIGHT CLEAR relies almost completely on great acting and visual stimulation.
Leading the young, talented cast is Ethan Hawke. He's mostly an introver, keeping to himself, thinking out the logic of every situation. He's not the most experienced soldier in the unit, and knows it, so he leaves most of the tactical decisions up to Avakian (Kevin Dillon of PLATOON). "Father" Mundy (Frank Whaley, WHEN TRUMPETS FADE) is the good-natured guy who wants to become a priest. Miller (Peter Berg) goes along with the others in the group. Stan (Arye Gross) is a Jew with only one goal in mind. They all look out for "Mother" Wilkins (Gary Sinise from PATH TO WAR, in the best role of the film), who's gone more than half-mad after losing his newborn back home. Curt Lowens (TOBRUK) also makes an impact as an aging German soldier who just wants to go home.
The script is nearly perfect, providing each actor with excellent material. Hawke's narration is often funny, but when one thinks about it, what he's saying is not far from the terrible truth. The scenery is great; the entire film looks like it was filmed in - well - the Ardennes. The colors have been played around with a bit, and throughout the film you'll feel as though you're wandering through a dream.
The few combat scenes are used to shock - not entertain. The one really gut-wrenching movement involves the fake ambush, with men pointlessly killed on both sides. Blood stains the beautiful white snow, and all of the innocence is lost.
Just watch this film and see how much damage war does on the minds and nerves of the men involved - on both sides. This is what it was like: scared kids, sometimes still in their late teens, who knew what to do when they had superiors commanding them. But when they got out on their own, what will they do? It's like THE THIN RED LINE, only here the men seem real. They're not a bunch of pretty boys who talk and act as though they graduated from Oxford. They're kids from a variety of lives who are trying to make the best of a bad situation, which is all you can do during wartime.
I had to order this movie in from the US because you can't get it in Britain. But it was worth all the hassle of tracking it down because it is an amazing movie. Ethan Hawke is great as the young Sergent who must lead a group of frightened young soldiers to the German front. Gary Sinise is amazing as the emotionally damaged "Mother" Wilkins, and the supporting cast is great too! When the group discovers a Nazi camp of soldiers who have lost the will to fight, an uneasy truce is formed, which will ultimately and in tragedy as the American Platoon try to protect "Mother." The movie is brilliantly acted and with a emotionally powerful ending. (I was very nearly crying at the end!!!!) Defiantely worth hunting down!!!!
This is one of those films that when it finishes you can't find words for
while, to express the feelings it stimulates.
I was one of the few who saw this in the theater, and I was stunned by the
power of the acting, and surprisingly enough, the writing.
If after seeing this you can't see the futility of war, you've missed something. This is in the same class as All Quiet on the Western Front, Gallipoli, and Breaker Morant.
It's a war film, but an atypical and sober one at that. Probably war
drama fits better. As there's a whole lot more to it than just action.
On that count it has its moments, but really it's about the characters
(if something of a coming of age) and the realisation that their enemy
is just as reluctant and afraid as them. The script is meditatively
thoughtful and the performances by a capable cast (Ethan Hawke, Kevin
Dillon, Peter Berg, Gary Sinise, Frank Whaley, Arye Gross and John C.
McGinley's pig-headed Major Griffin) are genuinely layered. This helps
draw you in, feeling the joy but also the tragic nature that waits. It
absorbingly paints the foolishness of war, where in a serenely ironic
manner it all pans out. It follows a small young American
reconnaissance platoon nearing the end of WW2 in Eastern Europe, which
was put together due to them having the highest I.Q. in the army.
Thinking that they would get better results, however on their mission
they come across a patrol of German soldiers hiding from their
inevitable fate and a special, if strange bond is formed between the
two parties. Written and directed by Keith Gordon (who I'll always
remember him as Arnie Cunningham from John Carpenter's 80s horror flick
"Christine"), he does an effective job tailoring the welcoming humanity
and the painstaking horrors of war through the visuals, dialogues,
atmospheric surroundings and performances. The narrative moves back and
forth early on dealing with past events that brought these American
soldiers together, before settling on the straight-and-narrow. The
material is rather offbeat and mellow, especially when it came to the
interactions between the two groups. What seems unfathomable, becomes
reality and then even playful (snowball fights?!). There's something
simply haunting and forlorn about this presentation and you could
probably attributed it to the beautifully moody, if glassy music score.
It just stays with you. Like the final shot of the film, where the
camera pans onto Hawke's face of despair and this is one powerfully
heartfelt moment. "A Midnight Clear" is quite low-key and unpredictable
in all, but hard to forget.
"I'm through playing soldier."
I saw the film when it was in theatres nearly 20 years ago. As for
scary films set in a snow-bound mansion, I found this to be ten times
as creepy as The Shining. This is not a horror film, but certain images
in the first half of the film are as horrifying as anything I've seen
in film since then. I don't mean gore or grue. I mean ghost-story
A war movie/horror film? Has anything ever been done like that? I think this film is in a genre all its own. I guess this is an anti-war film. If you wish to view it as such. It certainly does not make the viewer want to rush out and fight a war. In the cast are John McGinley and Kevin Dillon, both from the cast of "Platoon," but here in significantly different roles.
I regret to say I've not been able to totally analyze and deconstruct this film. I can't tell you what it's all about, or what you should think or feel as you watch it. There is so much going on in this film. I saw it in the theatre nearly twenty years ago, and then again on cable when I taped it, about 16 years ago. I watched it again tonight. It was just as spooky and just as impressive as it was two decades ago.
I totally loved this film. My father fought in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, very close in time and proximity to this story. His battalion, from Pennsylvania, trained at Camp Shelby (in Mississippi), just as the soldiers in this film. Some horrifying things he saw in the forties, he was only able to begin to describe a few years ago.
This is such a terrific film. For so many different reasons.
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