Monday Movies ~7th December 2020

Still waiting for Phil’s Civil War movies to turn up, he didn’t realise he’d ordered them from America 🙄 so in the meantime back to WW2 and the Saints & Soldiers series. Having done the last one first, (review HERE) we did the first one. Again directed by Ryan Little, and brought in for under $1 million, this movie won multiple Best Picture awards from over 15 different film festivals. Little had done his research on the Battle of the Bulge, and chose a particular incident, the Malmedy Massacre, on which to pin the plot.

The Malmedy Massacre really happened, and the movie starts there, as German soldiers open fire onto American POW’s they’ve lined up in a field. They shoot most of them, chase and shoot the ones that run, and check the bodies, shooting any who remain alive, in the head. In real life 43 survivors made it back to American lines, but the movie follows 4 of the escapees, and they have a fictional adventure involving meeting up with a British Airman who has important papers to get to an American command post.

The soldiers consist of Corporal “Deacon” Greer (Corbin Allred) a Mormon sharp shooter suffering from PTSD after he accidentally killed Belgian civilians whilst getting to a German sniper shooting at him from the top of a church, Staff Sergeant Gunderson (Peter Asle Holden) Deacon’s superior and good pal, Medic Steven Gould (Alexander Niver), a bit of a curmudgeon, Shirl Kendrick (Larry Bagby) a member of Gould’s division, and Flight Sergeant Oberon Windley (Kirby Heyborne).

No spoilers as to the plot other than to say they have an eventful and sometimes traumatic 20 mile journey fighting German troops, a winter storm and personal conflict in their attempt to get the Brit to an American command post.

Little both directed it and was behind the camera, and shot the whole thing in Utah in 2003 in 30 days. He positioned his camera angles to avoid the Wasatch Mountains being in any shots, and it worked, the snow and trees gave a reasonable impression of the Ardennes forest. Although they shot it in January, there still wasn’t enough snow and so used potato flakes instead for some scenes. Because of the low budget the cast had to do all their own stunts, and Little recruited a group of WW2 re-enactors, who all traipsed up to Utah with their authentic gear and vehicles at their own expense to play Soldiers in the snow. They did an excellent job and I bet they had a blast.

The acting was Ok mostly, it felt like they got better as the movie went on. The script had subtle religious overtones (Little is a Mormon) and his depiction of how a Brit would speak was a bit off. They couldn’t afford a dialogue coach for Kirby Heyborne, an American actor, so he did his best by watching British movies, and he didn’t do too bad a job considering. They also made him grow a moustache and dyed his hair as he’d been in several Latter Day Saints movies and didn’t want him recognised. They also had the character smoke cigarettes, which Heyborne doesn’t so he had herbal ones and practiced dragging on them for 2 weeks prior to filming, poor sod.

It is amazing how good the movie looked for such a small budget, and it was good to see ‘the making of’ feature on the DVD after. It was obvious how committed these actors, director and producers were, and how they wanted to get everything right and tell a great story. I think they succeeded really well.

Fraggle Rating: A WW2 gem for $780,000.

Our second movie is also a kind of war movie. War Machine (2017) was written and directed by David MichĂ´d and based on the book The Operator by Michael Hastings. It’s a fictional account of the U.S Army General Stanley McChrystal, and covers his time in Afghanistan.

McChrystal is fictionalised and becomes General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) who is sent out to Afghanistan to assess how the government can win the war out there. He can do what he wants but isn’t allowed to ask for any more troops. McMahon and his right hand man Gen. Pulver (Anthony Michael Hall) (loosely based on Lt.Gen Michael Flynn) decide they can win the war themselves and consequently ask to be sent 30,000 more troops in order to stabilise the country. McMahon sends in his assessment but is told that it’s not a good idea to have more troops sent over at the time as a general election is being called in Afghanistan, and he will have to wait a month. When the month is up he’s then told there will be a run-off election die to fraudulent voting, and McMahon loses patience and leaks the assessment to the Washington Post. He also does an interview with the 60 Minutes TV show and reveals that since he was put in charge of Afghanistan he has only had one meeting with President Obama. Matt Little (Topher Grace), a former lobbyist turned McMahon’s civilian media adviser, brings his friend Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy) into the fold who stays with the General’s entourage for a month in order to do a feature on the General. A cynical journalist for the Rolling Stone magazine, Cullen is based on Michael Hastings, and is also the sardonic narrator throughout the movie.

Well this was a strange one, Netflix call it a comedy, wiki calls it a war movie, you could say it’s a character study, and also a satire, at times it’s one of those, at times it’s all of them and at times none of them. Ben Kingsley plays President Hamis Karzai and I’d label that a caricature, and to a certain degree so is Pitt’s performance. He plays the general as an old war dog, ready to fight, wanting to finish the job and is gruff and emotionless. The suits around him are telling him he’s not there to win the war, but to clear up the mess and get the hell out of dodge, but he won’t listen, thinks he knows better. The men around him are no better, sychophantic yet showing the ‘Glenimal’ genuine affection. The scenes between Pitt and the suits – Lieutenant General Pat McKinnon, United States Ambassador to Afghanistan (Alan Ruck) based on Lt.Gen Karl Eickenberry), Dick Waddle, (Nicholas Jones) loosely based on Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, show the frustration of the General and the political idiocy of the situation.

Eventually McMahon gets his troops, 30,000 from Obama and he has go to Paris to court the coalition allies for the remaining 10,000. Tilda Swinton turns up as a German politician who respectfully rips him a new one over his hubris. Eventually the General gets his troops, and the movie does then venture into ‘war movie’ territory, no satire or comedic turns here, now we get to see the futility and human cost of this war.

Cullen goes off to write his article for the Rolling Stone, and basically ends the General’s career in doing so. His real alter ego Michael Hastings did the same for McChrystal, and then wrote his book.

A mixed bag then, not a very cohesive movie, but some solid, if strange, performances, pieces that work, and some that don’t. When Hastings wrote his article, it was in the hope that the fall of McChrystal would convince Obama and his politicians to stop invading other countries, and end the war in Afghanistan. Instead they got rid of McChrystal and sent out Petraeus, in the movie General Bob White, in what must be the shortest bit part ever for Russel Crowe, striding manfully through the airport, as did Pitt at the very beginning.

Fraggle Rating: Inconsistent but strangely compelling.