Sunday, October 31, 2010
Band of Brothers
Before I go much further, I want to clarify something. In my mind, a good war movie isn't one that sensationalizes war. I'm not interested in the suped up Hollywood action scenes, the cheesy characters and their cheesy one-liners, or larger than life stories of heroism (which more often than not have been glammed up to meet studio's demands). I want to hear the real stories, from real guys who were really there... who became heroes - not because they were trying, but because they did what they had to do. I've identified three movies that I think capture that. I'll give one post to each of those movies.
I remember the first time I saw ads for HBO's miniseries called "Band of Brother." My immediate response was, "That looks dumb! Looks like somebody's trying to remake Saving Private Ryan!" Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, if I had known then what I know now, I would have punched myself in the kidney for even thinking that. True, there's an obvious resemblance in the styles of the two films, which stands to reason as Spielberg and Hanks collaborated on both projects. And what they were able to do with Private Ryan, they far outdid with BoB. Incidentally, I'd like to point out that Private Ryan did not make my top three.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, it follows a company of paratroopers from their training days before the invasion of Normandy, all the way through the end of World War II. Because it's a miniseries in ten one-hour episodes, they had a lot more time than your average movie and were able to tell a much bigger story. But there are a few things that make this movie so stinkin' good, and really put it in a different category among war movies.
First of all, what makes this story so great is how deeply you connect with the characters. As you can imagine, there are a lot of characters to follow. And at first, it may even seem overwhelming. But because of how the story is told, you quickly learn who these guys are as you watch them fight their way across Europe. Guys like Winters, Nixon, "Wild Bill" Guarnere, Lipton, and many others will start to feel like good friends. That's why, with each new campaign, and each new battle, you cringe as you watch these men rise and fall in the barrage. You realize pretty quickly that these aren't just characters in a movie any more...
And that brings me to the second reason why this is such a good movie: Before and/or after each episode, you hear the real guys share their stories. Let me slow down just in case you missed that: You hear the real guys... as in, the veterans who actually fought in this company... tell their stories. What you discover is that these elderly, white-haired men who are telling their war stories to the camera are the real-life Winters, Guarnere, Lipton, and so on. The characters you see on the screen are matched to real-life people, many of whom were still living at the time the movie was made. In essence, you're watching their stories unfold in true-to-life fashion. And just to make sure we're clear, they haven't even changed the names. Richard Winters - the real man - was portrayed as Richard Winters in the movie.
And let me tell you, there's something so deeply touching, and profoundly moving, as you watch these men tell their stories. Many times, even sixty years after these events went down, they break into tears as they talk about it. I'll be honest with you - if you aren't reduced to tears and snot in those moments, there's something seriously wrong with you. I'm man enough to admit that I weep like a girl watching this movie... every time. And that's how you know it's good.
Finally, the icing on the cake is the movie itself. The production, from cinematography, to directing, to the sets, to the realism of the action... all of it is lightyears away from what Hollywood has been able to do. And that, in and of itself, is a big reason why this is the best war movie in the last one thousand years.
Bottom line: If you want amazing white-knuckle epic battles that have been recreated to detail based on historical data and first-hand witness accounts, BoB has plenty. If you want rich character development, and story lines that delve deep into the psychological and emotional effects of war, BoB has that too. If you're all about the realism of war, BoB is loaded with it. If you want a love story... you should probably watch something by Nicholas Sparks.
I've never served in the military or fought in a war. But I have a feeling that Band of Brothers is about as close as you can get to watching it as it really happened. No glitz, no glamour... just history made into a movie. And that's a big reason why it tops my list of best war movies... ever.
You'll forgive me if I forgo on my standard sign-off.