Youtube Film Club: A Midnight Clear (1992)

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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.

– RJW
7/10

A Midnight Clear on IMDB

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The Purge (2013)

As the end credits of “The Purge” washed over me, I wracked my brain. I wanted to kill…the person who’d recommended this film to me, but I couldn’t remember who it was. Whoever you are, you’ve had a lucky escape.

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I suppose I ought to review it. It’s 2022, and “the New Founding Fathers” of America have decided that one night a year when all crime is legal would be a good thing, where people can “purge” the sins from themselves. Quite cleverly, they don’t mention what political background these new rulers come from, to allow us to project our prejudices on the other side (although it seems likely they’re some libertarian, Ayn Rand spouting bunch).

This seems to have had remarkably few other effects, psychologically speaking, on the people we see, including security salesman Ethan Hawke and his wife Lena Headey. They lock down for the night, but their daughter’s boyfriend and a homeless black man on the run from a mob cause all sorts of shenanigans for our brave family. A bunch of rich college students were chasing that homeless man and want him back, in order to kill him good and proper; and the boyfriend wants a man-to-man chat with the Dad.

A world where all crime is legal for one night a year is an interesting idea for a film, but it’s dealt with in the least interesting way possible. An upper-middle-class family and a home invasion-style film is just a bit on the dull side for your average movie-goer. Maybe focus on the homeless guy? The film makes hints towards being socially conscious, but it’s not really developed. Perhaps, have a group of people stranded on the wrong side of town (literally), trying to get back through the utterly lawless streets?

I think my main problem with it, though, is how little thought has gone into creating this world. I’m not the smartest guy, but a hundred problems with this world popped into my head as I was watching it, such as the lack of  psychological problems from killing someone. The reason we don’t murder people from dawn to dusk is not because of the laws against it, but because, by and large, we don’t want to. Committing serious violent crimes against someone can mess you up, but the indication from this film is that blowing off steam works a treat. It doesn’t (so says my degree in Criminal Justice), because when you start thinking of violence as a solution to your problems on one day, you’re going to think it’s a solution on every other day – take our villains, for instance. There is absolutely no chance in hell they’re not committing crimes the other 364 days a year (the film tells us crime rates are at an all-time low).

As my lovely wife and I were on our way home from the cinema, there were lots of little things that bubbled into our heads. Fire, for example. If there’s no fire service for the 12 hours of the Purge, then I’m thinking one or two pyromaniacs could go hog wild in that time. Cities would burn to the ground. Religious fundamentalists might decide to sabotage the water supply to a place like Las Vegas to get rid of the scum there, and cause billions of dollars worth of damage. Women who went into labour at the beginning of the Purge might suffer severe problems. Is there insurance in this world? Also, if you were rich enough to live in a gated community like our heroes, why wouldn’t you just go on holiday for the time of the Purge? Go to Canada! I would think that professional criminals would just loot the hell out of everything they could find and export it or sell it the next day, which would absolutely destroy the economy. Bank managers would just rob the heck out of their own banks. And so on, and so forth.

And so on. I suppose we talked about this film a lot more than we talked about many other films we’ve seen recently, so there’s that, but it just seemed poorly thought out and made characters act in odd ways to drive the plot along. This includes running off in their house – it’s obviously a pretty big place, but it’s super-difficult to figure out where anyone is (more a fault of the director’s, I suppose). It also had a lot of that thing where one of our heroes is about to get shot or bludgeoned to death, until a shot comes from someone who wasn’t in the scene and was off screen at the last second, killing the baddie. This is becoming a ludicrously overused trope. And more jump scares than you can shake a stick at.

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I hinted at it before, but there’s an interesting film to be made from this idea. The way people change when a fundamentalist government takes over and ramps up the propaganda to 11, for example. But, this film absolutely was not it.

The Purge on IMDB
Buy The Purge [DVD] [2013]