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Band of Brothers (DVD, 2002, 6-Disc Set)
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Band of Brothers: I am not a hero, but I served with heroes.
Apr 19, 2004
Review by Rebecca Huston
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Top-notch in every aspect.
Cons:There is a lot of violence and gore in this. Watch it anyway.
The Bottom Line: Entirely belivable, and done with flair, this is probably the best filmmaking short of acutal footage to show what warfare is like.
Every now and then, something comes along that defies description and shows just how good filmmaking can get. Adapted from Stephen E. Ambrose's account with the same name, this goes one step farther than Saving Private Ryan, following a company of elite paratroopers from their training to the end of the war. Each episode is preceded by a little narrative from the men who were actually there, which gives just the right note to story. This isn't some fictionalized story, each character that you see on the screen actually lived.
Recommend this product?
Many of them died. Nearly all of them were wounded along the way. They lived and saw things that many of us could not bear. And most of all, it shows why an all-volunteer military is the best, both for survival, and for morale. Airborne troops are the most rigorously trained of armed forces today - they go behind enemy lines, and usually will survive, given the right support and leadership. But that's my own little soapbox and view on the topic.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg served as executive producers for this, and the fact that they took this one to heart shows. There's hardly a mistake to be had in this ensemble of casting, direction, writing and cinematography. While the angles may get confusing at times, and the camera work rather sloppy, it does make sense as you watch, and the feeling of immediacy is very present ? I found myself taking deep breaths to stay calm, especially during the action sequences. And at times, they get downright amazing, as with the shots of the Normandy invasion, when the night sky is full of planes, waiting to drop their men.
We're introduced to the members of E (or Easy) Company, of the 506th battalion in two places. One is on the day before the invasion of Normandy, and the other is when they are training in 1942. To shepherd them along is a sadistic lieutenant, Sobel (David Schwimmer), who sees nothing in breaking the men down with universal punishments and an arrogant attitude. Worse still, he seeks to cover up his inadequacies by sucking up to his superior officer, and trying to twist his subordinates to his way. But when a drill in the English countryside goes afoul, it's his executive officer Lt. Winters (Damien Lewis) and the non-commissioned officers that provide the revolt.
Day of Days
This was one of the most stunning depictions of D-Day (June 6, 1944) that I have ever seen. Easy company gets sent behind the lines at Utah beach in a night drop, and gets involved with their first engagement with the Germans. It's an interesting encounter to say the least for one member of the company as he finds an enemy who not only speaks English, but also lived in the same state as he did. The effects and cinematography get a bit jerky, but here it fits perfectly, giving the viewer the same breathless feel as these men must have felt.
Sent to help take a vital French town, we get to know one particular soldier and his experiences. Alfred Blithe (Marc Warren) has seen a particular horror that no one should, an act that's terrible enough to make him go numb, even to the point of partial blindness, and there is no one that he can tell. It's a particularly emotional episode, and the filmmaker doesn't spare any of us the grisly details - the violence at the end gets to be rather horrific, but I also applaud the producers in showing us that warfare is a nasty ugly business that can bring out the very worst in people.
After an all too short leave in England, Easy Company returns to the front lines in the Operation 'Market-Garden' designed to take several towns in Holland and bring a quick end to the war. And there are new recruits to replace the ones that have been too wounded or dead to return. But despite a very warm welcome from the Dutch, it's also the first taste of defeat for the company. There's also a glimpse of the odious Captain Sobel.
Lt. Winters is now a captain, and when his men come across a German patrol that are guarding one of the massive dikes in Holland, they're in for more than they had expected ? namely an SS company. Winters also discovers that command is more than he thought it would be.
Diverted to Bastogne, the story of the 101st and the defense of that town is told mostly through the eyes of a young medic, Eugene Jackson. It's cold, and the men have little food, virtually no ammunition, and even fewer supplies. And yes, the Germans did offer an honorable surrender to the men, and the commander turned it down with probably the most famous one liner in history - "Nuts!" What is good about this one is that it shows that the civilians were just in as much peril as trained troops, and isn't shy about depicting how terrible battle can be, not just on the bodies, but also the minds of those caught up in it.
The Breaking Point
Here we get to see what can happen when men are led with incompetence. Told mostly from the point of view of the company?s first sergeant, Evans, it's an account of what happened just after the siege of Bastogne, and Easy Company has to take the town of Foy from the Germans. The bad news is that they have Lt. Dike in charge - who instead of leading his troops, can never really seem to found. Ever. It's a recipe for disaster, and finally, one of the men simply breaks down.
The Last Patrol
On the edge of the German border, Easy Company is to capture prisoners for interrogation. There's also the return of Webster, who was injured early on and has been recuperating for the last four months. Unhappily, he discovers that his old comrades view him as just another 'replacement,' and he finds out that he has to earn their respect once again. Worse still, there's a brand new officer, Jones, just out of West Point and is very raw and more than likely to get the patrol killed.
Why We Fight
Now in Germany, Easy Company is finding out that life can be pretty good. There's women, food, and booze, and if a man picks up a 'souvenir' or two, well, no one's really paying much attention. But when they reach the forests of Bavaria, they find something that makes everything that they have seen before - well, it's hard to watch. I suggest that if you're sensitive, you may want to skip the last half hour of this one, as some of the shots get very graphic and intense.
At first, the title of this episode may sound confusing, but in military parlance, points are what you accrue over time, given for time served, any honors, campaigns and so forth. Get enough points, and you can leave the service with certain benefits. The war, for Easy Company, is somewhat over. They might not be fighting the Germans, but the war is still going on in the Pacific, and worst still, they have plenty of time, guns and liquor, and that's trouble. So - will Easy Company finally get to go home, or will they be transferred to fight the Japanese?
In terms of solid, well-done filmmaking, this is one of the best series that I've seen in a long time. It?s obvious from the screen that the actors were dedicated to the story they were telling, and the technical crew wanted to do the very best that they could at giving an accurate depiction of men in battle. For those who are familiar with the history of WWII, they're not going to be insulted by Hollywood clichés or grandstanding dramatics that play for splashy effects or glamour shots of actors.
Best of all, it helped to show me, a civilian, what sort of sacrifice it does take to take up arms and fight. It's a messy horrible experience that calls on a person to give everything they have, good and bad, and a bit of luck to simply survive.
This is for an old friend of mine, Miguel Gallegos, who served with the 82nd Airborne, and who is no longer with us. I miss you, man.
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