Everyman´s War (2009) is retelling The Battle of the Bulge

I don´t really know what to say about this movie. Basically I think it is a missed chance. It contains too many flaws to be really good but still has quite a few touching moments. One would like to grab the filmmaker and give him a good shaking because it would not have needed much to be satisfying.

Everyman´s War is based on the story of Thad Smith´s, the film director´s father. Sgt. Don Smith was part of the 94th Infantry Division fighting for Nennig, a small town in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was one of those notorious big battles that had to show up with an enormous cost in lives. Being one of the decisive battles, the last big Nazi offensive, it overshadows other battles like the one at Hurtgen Forest that was so skillfully depicted in When Trumpets Fade. The battle of  Bastogne Forest that we saw in Band of Brothers is also part of the Battle of the Bulge. Smith lands in Europe around Christmas 1944, just when the offensive begins and stays in Europe until the end of the war.

The tragedy of the battle is well shown in Everyman´s War. The Army command misjudging the German´s will to fight thought they would never attack during ice-cold weather, snow and temperatures below zero. But they did.

Sgt. Smith´s courageous fight, the love for his comrades and his despair about losing them is well shown. So are the battle scenes. As long as there is no music all is fine. Sadly the choice of music is bad and ostentatiously corny. And so is the background story, the home front bits  (think the end of Saving Private Ryan and dip it in sirup).

This is frustrating as the main theme, alluded to in the title, is nicely executed. This was everyman´s war. Everybody was in it. The French, the English, the Americans, but also the Germans and the German Jews. Moments where the film achieves to make us feel sorry for everyman involved are truly good.

One last word on the use of language that will only annoy people who understand German. 90% of the actors impersonating German´s are not Germans and have bad accents and an unintentionally funny way of pronouncing the German words. However this will not bother speakers of other languages. Apart from that the portrait of Germans is quite just.

Having said all this I just think it is a pity. This could have been a good film but now we are left with a 3 (out of 5) star achievement.

When Trumpets Fade (1998)

Eerily beautiful is what comes to mind when speaking about this overlooked war movie gem. I discovered it thanks to Gary Freitas’ book on war movies.

The movie starts with black and white original footage and a voice telling us that it is 1944, just after Paris has been liberated.

After this introduction we are thrown into action and see one soldier, private Manning (Ron Eldard),  carrying his mortally wounded comrade whom he finally must abandon. All through watching this movie I was reminded of Goethe’s ballad the Erlkoenig in which a father rides with his son through the woods at night. The child keeps on saying it sees the Erlkoenig in the darkness who tries to tempt him and take him away. A very spooky ballad. When the father finally arrives at his destination he finds out that his little son has died in his arms.

Maybe John Irvin, the director, did think of this ballad when he shot this movie. The woods always had a special place in German mythology and references to this can be found in many a movie or book about WWII.

The soldiers in this movie are fighting a senseless battle, one that cost a horribly high amount of lives. The battle of Hurtgen forest is only not spoken about so often since it was shortly followed by the more famous Battle of the Bulge.

When Trumpets Fade tells the story of private Manning the only survivor of his company who is – due to his ability to survive under such circumstances – promoted to sergeant and gets to lead a group of replacements. In a bloody battle where they are to secure a bridge he is again one of the only survivors and gets promoted to lieutenant. Both times he protests. All he wants is to survive and  get out. He’s not the only unhappy soldier. The battle seems sense- and fruitless, casualties are high, soldiers and officers complain and rebel.

Manning is a very interesting character and his development makes this movie one of the rare psychologically interesting of its kind. This and the eerie scenes in the woods where the fog is thick, Germans lurking everywhere and naked, burning trees stand lonely and dark against the background,  makes this a haunting experience to watch.

The final credits are shown over endless rows of dragon’s teeth that are slowly covered in snow to  Bing Crosby singing White Christmas.