Directed by: Keith Gordon
Before I get into reviewing ‘A Midnight Clear’ I’d like to offer up my Top Ten Second World War films:
1. A Bridge Too Far
2. The Thin Red Line (1998)
3. Battle of Britain
4. Escape to Victory
5. Memphis Belle
6. Inglorious Basterds
7. Sophie Scholl – The Final Days
8. Enemy at the Gates
9. The Dirty Dozen
10. Tora! Tora! Tora!
Ok, with that out of the way let’s get to this little gem of a war movie called ‘A Midnight Clear’. Really it isn’t so much a war movie, as it is an anti-war tale, a story of how soldiers fighting under their nation’s respective banners weren’t that different back in WW2. All they really wanted was to get back home in one piece. An argument could also be made that ‘A Midnight Clear’ is the best Second World War film that hardly anybody is aware of.
The psychological horror of war is evident instantly as mad screams come from a trench in The Ardennes. It is the coldest of winters, and you can feel the frostbite. Mother (Gary Sinese) is losing his mind; he leaps out of his foxhole, and begins to strip naked, his buddy in the trench, a fresh faced Will Knott (Ethan Hawke), follows him, concerned that this madness could lead them both to grave danger. Mother, after sprinting ahead, is found by Will, he is scrubbing himself in a freezing stream. When this ends Mother decides to put his clothes back on, his teeth chattering. Will offers to take him to an Army psychiatrist, but Mother doesn’t want to go.
Will is the narrator of the story, and he tells us how the squad is down to a half dozen men, after good men were needlessly killed on a suicidal recon mission. The depleted squad are lambs to the slaughter and sent on another risky exercise by Dr. Cox from ‘Scrubs’ to scout out whether or not the Nazi’s are mounting an all-out offensive.
The squad set up a post in an abandoned building, whilst there Will has a flashback to his early days in army, before his squad were deployed to Europe. Concerned that they were still virgins, and may well die without getting their dicks wet, four of the men go out searching for a whore. They bump into an innocent, traumatized girl called Janice, who lost her husband Mac overseas. Janice is looking for her own physical contact and emotional fulfilment. In what is surprisingly a rather touching scene, the soldiers respectively get to know Janice, and during the night, she visits each of them one by one, giving them what they were looking for.
Whilst on lookout Will and another soldier realize the enemy are close, in fact within talking distance. The Germans begin calling over to the Americans, seemingly taunting them. Each night the Germans, rather than wishing to attack the Americans begin to offer an olive branch. They chant “Fuck Hitler” and don’t take the opportunity to blast away the Americans when they have them in their rifle sights. Eventually the two sides form a dialogue of sorts, and come together. After tense negotiations they hatch a plan that will perhaps get all of them out of the warzone alive.
‘A Midnight Clear’, like ‘Escape to Victory’ is not a conventional war film. It reinforces the idea that the men who served their countries did so, not solely for national pride, and the freedom of their country, not even for the greater good, but with the intention of surviving. The squad are young men with principles, with desires, trapped in an insane game that takes place on foreign soil. All they want is to make it out of the shit.
There are solid performances throughout the film from a bright cast including Ethan Hawke, Kevin Dillon and Gary Sinese, and director Keith Gordon takes great care with each scene, making the unrealistic, i.e. German soldiers befriending Americans, rather believable. This is a parable first and foremost, but it isn’t one that is clumsy or forced. ‘A Midnight Clear’ is a war film with little action, but plenty to keep you on the edge of your seat, as you find yourself willing the troops to make it through the war and enjoy a safe trip home. The sad thing is you know they’re not all going to make it, there will be casualties.