Ok, I did want to see Book of Life again, but was at least curious on this one. It was also a friends going away party and he wanted to see this, so my responsibilities as a reviewer and a friend aligned for a change of pace. This one almost – almost – got the tag trailer fail on it. The trailer promised me Band of Brothers in a Tank with a semi decent amount of action and what looked to be a potential romantic subplot somewhere. It was close enough in many respects that it doesn’t fail as hard as others have in the past.
Yes, but if the trailer sold it, should I still see it.
(TRIGGER WARNING – there is some content discussed that could be sensitive to some readers)
Well that’s a good question to ask. The film was written,produced, and directed by David Ayer. Ayer directed the gritty cop drama with Michael Peña End of Watch and the recent Governator bomb Sabotage. His writing includes, U-571, Fast and the Furious (the first one), Training Day, and Dark Blue The man knows gritty. DC should hire him if they want to keep their track record of gritty, visceral, humourless films. He seems to be particularly good at them, point in fact, he seems to have refined it to an art form by now. He is unforgiving in his story and characterizations, to the point I was ready to walk out twice during the film. Thats right walk out. Two scenes were so uncomfortable to watch I debated leaving. They weren’t particularly graphic in any way but the psychological violence in them was just over the edge for me. They were flat out disturbing and in many respects somewhat depressing.
Now as much as I hated seeing those screens, they represent a keen awareness of history and behavior during the invasion of Germany towards the end of World War II. I have seen Kelly’s Heroes and the Battle of the Bulge. They were products of their times and had rose coloured glasses on when it came to the Americans liberating and winning during their involvement in the war. Both were excellent and entertaining films, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t quite capture the horror of war. It’s not what was wanted or needed then. Modern audiences want that realism. They want that dark edge. Congratulations you have it. You have two scenes of strongly implied, but not shown, rape. You have psychological torture and the breaking down of a very green soldier. You have any number of major extremities being removed by large calibre fire. You have the horror of war for just over two hours. Nothing in this film makes it seem glorious or glamourous. It is an unforgiving hell. One specifically designed to strip you of any ideals or humanity. Few punches are pulled.
The acting, I have to give a wow here. Brad Pitt shows how solid an actor he is and that he can control himself and bottle it all in, with most of the strongest elements of his performance from body language. Jon Bernthal (Walking Dead) takes a huge departure from his previous work and gives an equally visceral performance. Michael Peña continues to impress and I hope continues to do a wide range of films. Logan “Percy Jackson” Lerman showed an improved range over his previous works. The most standout performance goes to the much maligned Shia Lebeouf. I don’t like him on personal and professional grounds. He was nearly unrecognizable in this role due to good acting.
Honestly this film screams Oscar Bait. The acting was excellent, the sets, the production design, all of it was designed to be Oscar worthy.
It sounds like I really liked the film with all the praise above. This is the difference between professional and emotional attachment to a work. Artistically the movie is a well made war movie in nearly every aspect, but from an an entertainment value – It kinda failed. I really did not enjoy my time watching it
It wan’t that it was boring, but because it verged on too uncomfortable.
So the final verdict:
If you love war movies. Go see this
If you are a completist for any actor mentioned- go see this.
If you don’t like war films at all – avoid it at all costs.
Otherwise – give this one a pass. It’s so good. So real , it stopped being entertaining and was just …off.