William Wharton's autobiographical novel of World War II becomes a moving portrait of war's madness in the microcosm of a small intelligence patrol on the German front in 1944. The unit, composed of high IQ soldiers, is s... more »ent to scout ahead. They discover a small platoon of Germans hiding in the forest, but these soldiers would rather fight with snowballs than guns and exchange Christmas presents instead of mortar fire. The young, rather unsoldierly Americans are offered the opportunity to "capture" the Germans without a fight--until a fatal misunderstanding plunges their efforts into tragedy. Director Keith Gordon, who also penned the screenplay, creates an unusually eloquent, offbeat platoon drama shot amidst the tranquil beauty of a snow-covered forest. His excellent cast includes future stars Ethan Hawke and Gary Sinise, with Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross, and Peter Berg rounding out the platoon. Though little seen upon its 1992 release, this moving drama received high praise for its vivid characters and delicately wrought imagery and remains one of the most powerful pacifist dramas of the post-war era. --Sean Axmaker« less
"As I saw this film and Castle Keep again recently, I thought about Stanley Weintraub's book Silent Night in which he discusses a brief period prior to Christmas in 1914, on the battlefields of Flanders, when German and British soldiers spontaneously agreed to declare a truce and suspend fighting, thereby defying their commanding officers. Centuries ago, knights and their attendants would work with their enemies to clear a field for combat the next day. Such cooperation had an obvious practical value. That's not what interests Weintraub as he examines a temporary truce during one of the bloodiest wars ever fought. It had little (if any) practical or tactical value but it did (and does) suggest a human need which transcends military obligations. However, war is war. After a brief respite, the carnage inevitably resumes.
A Midnight Clear was directed by Keith Gordon and is based on William Wharton's autobiographical novel. Rather than featuring a star such as Burt Lancaster (as in Castle Keep), the lead roles in this film are played by those normally seen in supporting roles. For example, Kevin Dillon, Ethan Hawke, and Gary Sinise. They and all others in the cast are first-rate. Basically, here's the situation. An elite U.S. Army intelligence unit is given a reconnaissance mission in the Ardennes Forest in December of 1944, just before the Battle of the Bulge. The men in the platoon may be far from home as Christmas approaches, lonely and miserably cold, but they retain a certain playful spirit comparable with what Robert Altman celebrates in M.A.S.H. They encounter a German unit and then....
While seeing this film the first time and then again recently, I felt as if I were dreaming that I had returned to the 1940s in a time machine, to Belgium near the end of World War Two. Credit Tom Richmond's cinematography with creating an uncommonly beautiful setting for the savage combat which occurs there, as does John Mathieson during the "Hell Unleashed" sequence early in Gladiator. The dreamlike atmosphere continues throughout as the men suspend and then resume their own involvement in the war. This is a haunting film, at times an exquisitely lovely film, but also one which raises some serious questions. Why not throw snow balls instead of grenades, then treat each other to a round of drinks? Why not celebrate Christmas together, exchanging gifts and singing carols, as their ancestors once did on Christmas Eve in 1914, on the battlefields of Flanders? Doesn't all that make much more sense than killing each other? Of course. It's just that...."
Still "Reformatted To Fit Your TV" (FULLSCREEN)
D. Brodale | 10/29/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The latest DVD release (Fall 2003) is *still* presented in fullscreen/pan'n'scan format, despite technical information to the contrary on Amazon. Twice released on DVD, twice modified from its original widescreen format. Shameful.This is especially appalling, given that the packaging utilizes *widescreen* stills from the film alongside its synopsis -- scenes you will never see in such state should you view the enclosed disc."
Is it a war movie or isn't it?
Robert Morris | 12/20/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie can be used as an example of what cinema is supposed to be. Yes, I have read some of the other reviews with their negative comments about the language and the depiction of American soldiers, but in this film's defense it WAS wartime and I'm certain that there were some soldiers who served bravely but nevertheless did not embrace the luster that the "last good war" was giving off on the homefront. What this film is trying to do is show the smaller, less significant aspects of World War II and the human side of the soldiers, a number of years before Saving Private Ryan.The plot is a little slow and it takes a while to develop, but this is balanced nicely by some interesting character developments. Sometimes you have to accept what is happening at face value and wait for its meaning to be explained later, but that's a minor point. The cast are not huge names (except for, I guess, Ethan Hawke & Gary Sinise but this was years before either really took off) but the acting is pretty good. Not fantastic, but good enough. One of the more appealing aspects of this film is that it isn't in-your-face movie-making, but is instead probably the quietest war movie you'll ever see. The word that springs to mind immediately is "competent", which doesn't sound like too much of a praise but it is exactly what makes this movie worth it. On a personal level, I found it fascinating to question actual World War II veterans about events similar to what was in the film. It wasn't until then that I could put my finger on what this movie's overall appeal was, but I think it is because most of us would probably behave similarly were we to be placed in the same circumstances the film depicts."
B. McGowan | dublin, ireland | 05/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A Midnight Clear ranks as one of my all time favorite war films. The World War Two, Battle of the Bulge, drama unfolds on a scale far diminished from giant films like Saving Private Ryan. A Midnight Clear effectively works its scaled down production to full advantage. In place of intrusive special effects, the viewer is rewarded with spell binding performances from all members of its twenty odd cast. Ethan Hawke is utterly convincing with his youthful, detached, yet traumatized narration throughout the film. Hawke's performance should be a model to follow for any young actors preparing to do a World War Two period piece; for the simple fact that men and woman of that era did not speak in the tones, nuances, and slang common today.Hawke's narration is innocent and devestating to experience through-out this heart breaking, was is hell, film."
A sad story of hope
B. McGowan | 06/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I watched this movie when it was first released on video. I knew nothing about it other than it was a story of WW 2 soldiers. What I walked away with was the sad tale of men at arms trying to find peace in utter chaos. As a former U.S. Marine, I could relate quite easily with the emotions and desire to want to live displayed by the characters. I could understand the plight of the German soldiers, young boys and old men impressed into service when Nazi Germany had nothing left, who wanted only to live in the dying days of the war. I was moved by the haunting musical score and the intense close-ups of the characters, torn by indecision and naivety, yet bouyed by the hope of salvation in an otherwise brutal and senseless campaign of destruction. This movie brings forth the anti-war message and sings such a message loud and clear. The heart-breaking prospect of a truce gone bad is the climax of a film that shows us the insane brutality of a war in which it's participants fought for each other, not a country or flag."