Band of Brothers – Greatest WWII Flick of All Time?


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Band of Brothers – a DVD review

Is this flick the Greatest of all World War II Movies?  Vote Now!

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Based on the book by acclaimed historian Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers is an intense, moving, astonishing, but above all, honest picture of ordinary men, transformed into elite men of valor, who did what needed to be done to defeat the great evil of their day. Encased in a nifty collectible tin, blessed with first-rate picture and sound, and with a disc of extras, this is a bundle of joy to gladden the hearts of the DVD-buying public.


At Camp Toccoa in the sweltering Georgia summer heat of 1942, Easy Company begins training under the petty harshness of Lt. Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer). After earning their jump wings, Easy Company shifts across the Atlantic to England to continue their training. However, as Easy Company prepares to drop into Hitler’s Fortress Europe on D-Day, the conflict between Lt. Sobel and platoon leader Lt. Dick Winters (Damian Lewis) escalates, forcing regimental commander Col. Robert Sink (Dale Dye) to take action.

“Day of Days”

In the chaos of the nighttime paradrop into Normandy, France, Easy Company, like its sister airborne units, is scattered far and wide across the enemy terrain. With newly selected company commander Lt. Meehan (Jason O’Mara) missing in action, Lt. Winters tries to gather the men of Easy together, fighting small battles along the way. The landing at Utah Beach is still in doubt, so Lt. Winters takes a small cadre of stragglers in a desperate battle to knock out a vital German artillery position.


The shock of D-Day overwhelms Pvt. Albert Blithe (Marc Warren), who finally is able to rejoin his comrades. Lacking in fighting spirit, Blithe is encouraged by Lt. Winters and other platoon leaders to find inner strength to stand and fight. Blithe is able to join in the Easy Company attack on Carentan, whose capture will allow American and British armored forces to from Utah and Omaha beaches to link up. Aided by Allied tanks, but suffering from German armor as well, Easy Company has little time to rest before being called back to England to prepare for their next major operation.

As part of the overly ambitious Operation Market-Garden, the largest airborne drop ever takes place over occupied Holland, involving the 101st Airborne Division (the Screaming Eagles), the 82nd Airborne Division, and the British 1st Airborne Division (the Red Devils). Easy Company, having absorbed replacement soldiers, liberates the town of Eindhoven, to the joy of most Dutch civilians but to the sorrow of a few collaborators. Success is short-lived when Easy’s advance runs into a strong German infantry and tank counter-attack and for the first time must retreat. Surveying the grim landscape, intelligence officer Capt. Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston) tells his friend Lt. Winters that Market-Garden is a failure.

Market-Garden having failed, Allied forces must now defend a narrow salient under heavy German attack from all sides. In an astonishing display of luck and bravery, Lt. Winters personally leads Easy in an attack against vastly superior numbers. Promoted by Col. Sink to battalion executive officer, Lt. Winters chafes at his administrative tasks and frets at handing over the leadership of Easy Company. A break from combat is short-lived when German troops break through Allied lines in the Ardennes Forest. Ill-clothed and ill-equipped, short of food, ammunition, and medical supplies, Easy Company and the rest of the 101st Airborne Division are thrown into the snowy darkness at Bastogne to hold the lines.

As Easy Company digs foxholes in the cold Belgian countryside, medic Eugene Roe (Shane Taylor) scrounges for the barest of essential medical supplies. As Easy Company struggles against the brutal winter and the encircling German army, Eugene tends to the wounded. Taking the worst to an aid station in Bastogne itself, Roe finds a fleeting moment of solace with a beautiful Belgian nurse (Lucie Jeanne). Christmas is grim and cold, though Col. Sink congratulates Easy for holding the line as Gen. George Patton races to break the siege of Bastogne.

“The Breaking Point”
The siege now over, Easy Company must begin the task of pushing back the German bulge. Amidst massive German artillery barrages, the men learn the truth of Pvt. Webster’s observation that “artillerytakes the joy out of life.” Easy loses several of its best men to grievous injuries, shocking Lt. Buck Compton (Neal McDonough). Worse, leadership of Easy Company is in the indifferent hands of Lt. Norman Dike (Peter O’Meara), much to the disgust of First Sergeant Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg). When Easy is called upon to seize the nearby town of Foy, Lt. Dike’s inadequacies put Easy in danger until Lt. Ronald Spiers (Matthew Settle) steps forward to lead the men, much to Lipton’s delight.

“The Last Patrol”
Still shaken by their experiences at Bastogne, Easy Company moves into the French town of Haguenau. The war seems to be slowing down, so no one is terribly interested in risking himself, except the newly minted West Pointer, Lt. Hank Jones (Colin Hanks). A patrol into the German lines to seize prisoners for Capt. Nixon to interrogate is successful, but costly.

“Why We Fight”
Life is far more comfortable for Easy Company in Germany than it ever has been. Nobody is shooting at them and they are sleeping in the relatively posh comforts of private homes (once their owners are evicted). All is not well, however. Captain Nixon takes part in an airborne operation that ends badly, leading to dark moods and alcohol abuse. Shortly after learning of the death of President Roosevelt, an Easy Company patrol makes a grisly discovery near Landsberg: a work camp, part of the sprawling Dachau complex.

Easy Company wins the race to the most coveted prize in the European CommandHitler’s mountaintop “Eagle’s Nest” in the town of Berchtesgadenbefore moving on to an equally picturesque posting in Austria. As the war draws to a close, violence is still a part of life, in the form of vigilante justice and drunken criminality. With little else to do, the men obsess over how many “points” they have, which determines how soon they can go home. A summary of post-war experiences of the men of Easy Company closes out the series.

This is the truth.

As told by the men who lived it, as committed to the page by Stephen Ambrose, this is a true story. If the situations seem familiar, the sentiments worn, or the words clichéd, that is the fault of the viewer’s jaded expectations. War seems to create similar experiences and evoke similar sentiments for the men who are called upon to fight the battles. Even an Ivy League educated man like Pvt. Webster cannot believe that he yelled a seemingly trite “they got me!” when he is shot, yet he did. He was just one of many who were called upon to serve the United States in the fight against Hitler’s evil, and who decided that they would not merely serve, but become the best soldiers they could be. They became the elite of the infantry, the new and untested military concept: airborne soldiers.

Band of Brothers tells the story of how men are trained for combat, how they fight their battles, and are in turn affected by them. We learn some aspects of their personalities and background, but these are secondary to the grim reality of their shared journey of courage and pain. While very few relished the prospect of combat, to a man they understood that the task before them had to be accomplished. They could not shirk their duty; they could not afford the luxury of self-doubt or introspective musing. Hitler and the original “Axis of Evil” simply had to be defeated, and for that, we all owe the men of Easy Company and the countless millions who also served a profound debt that we cannot begin to repay. However, we can honor the men, and their sacrifice, and so with Band of Brothers, we do.

The individual episodes of Band of Brothers all advance the story of Easy Company, but not always as you might expect. “Currahee” and “Day of Days” cover the harsh training and chaos of D-Day in familiar fashion. However, succeeding episodes illuminate different aspects of Easy Company’s life. “Carentan” is really about Pvt. Blithe and his struggles with combat, “Replacements” is about how attrition affects Easy Company and how the replacements are received, “Crossroads” personifies Winters’ combat leadership and fervent concern for his men, and “Bastogne” is how medic Roe finds equal measure of tragedy and respite behind the lines, treating the wounded.

Moving further along the list of episodes, soon you realize that Band of Brothers is not just a diary of the combat exploits of Easy Company. Anyone expecting a wall-to-wall Saving Private Ryan extravaganza is bound to be disappointed! When the combat action winds down after the bloody “The Breaking Point,” the whisper of quiet drama speaks louder than a shout. Without the thunder of combat, the accumulated strain of nearly 150% casualties, the unspeakable blasphemy of the Holocaust, and the shared obsession with returning home have a greater impact. Again, the point is not to try and compete with something like Schindler’s List, but rather to convey the impact by and on Easy Company.

As befits the immense collective endeavor that is Band of Brothers, the acting is so natural and uniformly excellent. Selected in part for their resemblances to the actual men of Easy Company, these men clearly took Dale Dye’s “actor boot camp” to heart and realized the honor of portraying these men and this story. Few of these men are well known to the public, though you may recognize Ron Livingston (Office Space) and Neal McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact, Minority Report, Boomtown). Nevertheless, two men in particular are worthy of high praise. Donnie Wahlberg (The Sixth Sense, Boomtown) is so intense and focused as Carwood Lipton you can at least forgive his early years in the bubblegum boy-band New Kids on the Block. Likewise, even if you are an inveterate Friends hater, David Schwimmer’s perfectly pitched turn as universally despised tyrant Lt. Sobel just may make you forget Friends (and his otherwise mediocre film career).

The anamorphic video appears to “suffer” from much the same techniques as did its cinematic big-brother Saving Private Ryan. Colors are restrained and desaturated, adding to the gritty feel of the handheld camera work. Aside from the intentional artistic choices, the video is otherwise of high quality. Commendable sharpness, no digital artifacting, and a pristine picture combine to present a quality putting many other DVD releases to shame.



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