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MORIARTY Reviews BAND OF BROTHERS: "Replacements"

Published at: Sept. 23, 2001, 6:49 a.m. CST

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

As BAND OF BROTHERS approaches the halfway mark, director David Nutter weighs in with an episode that manages to terrify even as it offers some of the most in-depth character material so far regarding the men of Easy Company.

”Replacements” was written by Graham Yost and Bruce C. McKenna, and it’s a fairly simple story. In fact, of all the episodes, this is the one that seems most like a conventional war movie in some ways. That’s not to say it’s a bad episode; there are no bad episodes. But it’s more like a movie, more organized. It’s just one of those stories that feels perfectly designed for the format of the series. In this case, the episode is all about the relationship between the core, the guys who actually trained under Sobel and dropped into Normandy and stayed with Easy Company from that point forward, and the guys who are brought in to replace those who die. Like the previous episodes, this one begins with several of the real survivors of Easy Company sharing their memories. One of them says he just stopped getting to know the new guys because it was too painful to watch them get hurt or die. This episode does a great job of showing how those bonds grew, whether anyone wanted them to or not.

It’s September in Aldbourne, England, and the men of Easy Company are enjoying a lull, a brief respite. They’re all playing darts, drinking, telling stories. Now that we’re four episodes in, the complaint that everyone looks alike no longer holds true. There’s faces we’re starting to recognize, names we’re starting to know. Denver “Bull” Randleman. Roy Cobb. Lynn “Buck” Compton. John Martin. Bill Guarnere. Leo Hashey. “Babe” Heffron. Hoobler. Malarkey. Carwood Lipton. We see Randleman’s new squad, almost entirely made up of replacements, and we see the tension that exists between them and the core, how hard it is to break through the barrier of that shared experience so they can get close to these more-experienced guys. An announcement is made: Lipton’s just been promoted to 1st Sgt., and the first thing he does is tell the men that they are moving out.

Winters and Nixon (Damien Lewis and Ron Livingston) are in charge of the briefing on Operation Market Garden. It’s a bigger air drop than Normandy, and puts them deep inside Holland, where they are to liberate Eindhoven. “This could put us into Germany and then back home by Christmas,” they are told, and there’s a buzz of excitement, even hope as they get ready for the drop. The replacements watch the older guys closely, imitating the way they carry their guns, the way they pack their gear. These men have survived for a reason, and the new guys are smart enough to absorb whatever they can from them. As they’re prepping, there’s a moment where the company sees Sobel (David Schwimmer), their CO from training. It’s a great moment that pays off all the tensions from episode one. Sobel’s a supply officer now, and the war is passing him by. He can barely stand it, and when he has to unload a truck in front of Easy Company, you can see it eating at him. Even so, there’s hints that Sobel learned from his experience. He gives a ride to “Popeye” Wynn, one of the guys from the company, who has left a hospital AWOL in order to make the jump. Instead of reporting him, Sobel makes sure “Popeye” makes it to the jump on time. Moments like this tie this whole thing together as a series, and not just a series of loosely-related episodes.

On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden begins. It’s a day drop, totally different than the drop on Normandy. It’s quiet. Silent, in fact. There’s no gunfire. There’s just a sky full of parachutes and planes and men, a beautiful sequence that makes breathtaking use of the FX work by Cinesite. Joel Ransom’s photography on this episode is exceptional, clean and crisp, with that wonderful bleached-out color that unifies the look of this show with the look of PRIVATE RYAN. This sequence also makes bravura use of the score by Michael Kamen, some of the finest music of his career. Each week, BAND OF BROTHERS finds moments of poetry amidst the horror of the war. This week, the first 20 minutes or so are all packed with lyrical beauty, visual power wrapped around some strong, smart character work. Randleman’s squad is always at the center in this episode. Each week, the show shifts focus, gradually giving each part of Easy Company a chance to be the main story. It’s one of the many things that impresses me about the structure of the series overall.

At first, it seems like Eindhoven is a total success. Not one shot is fired. The Germans bailed out the night before, like they knew the Americans were coming. When they arrive, they are greeted by the Dutch celebrating in the streets. Women rush in to kiss the soldiers and hug them, people give them food and gifts and take pictures with them. The noise is tremendous, and it’s hard for the Americans to regroup amidst the chaos. They hook up with the Dutch underground, and they see the dark side of the celebrating as people pull women from the crowds, pushing them off to the side where they’re beaten, where their heads are shaved. These are the women who laid with Germans, who sympathized. When Winters sees what’s going on, his Dutch contact shrugs. “Could be worse. They are shooting the men who sympathized.”

When Easy rolls into Neunan, the birthplace of Van Gogh, we’re just over 20 minutes into the episode, and it goes from quiet, almost mediative, to complete havoc in about four seconds. There’s one shot that starts everything, and it’s shocking, unexpected. Almost immediately, the Americans find themselves face to face with the Germans. It’s a trap, a nest of Germans dug in deep and ready and waiting for the Americans, and very quickly, we watch Operation Market Garden go to Hell.

When Randleman is separated from his squad, the true characters of these replacements gets put to the test, and they earn their place among Easy Company’s ranks. The battle sequence at Neunan is a nightmare. You see wrong decisions stack up, one after another, and people start to die. The Americans are overpowered quickly. The sequence goes on for a nightmarish 17 minutes, and it’s amazing how you start to really feel like there’s no getting out of the way, how it feels like the shit is never going to let up. David Nutter is another of the directors who graduated from THE X-FILES, and I think he’s far more talented than Rob Bowman or Morgan and Wong, who have all graduated to features already. Nutter does a magnificent job with this one, both in the quiet moments and in the chaos.

This episode will frustrate you, and it’s meant to. This was a major defeat for the Americans. Even as they pulled out, they took major hits. They eventually lost 180 men with 560 wounded, and Operation Market Garden, always labeled as a “high risk” operation, was deemed a failure. Still, we see these men pull together, and we see that initial tension between them melt away once battle begins. This is a strong episode about exactly what it is that takes these strangers and turns them into brothers, and it’s another sterling episode of this absorbing series.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • Sept. 23, 2001, 7:18 a.m. CST

    I'm First!!!

    by echo31

    Finally!!! Shit, I never thought I'd be one of those "I'm first" A**holes! Oh, well, couldn't resist....and you know what, I feel pretty good about it! BTW, love Band of Brothers and looking forward to tonights episode.... curious about Curb your enthusiasm, too!

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 7:21 a.m. CST

    dammit!

    by darth sars

    makes me wish i had HBO...

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 10:13 a.m. CST

    Wow

    by mrmovie84

    Tonight's episode sounds amazing.

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 11:07 a.m. CST

    ack

    by darth sars

    ack, i meant movie network. you know what i meant...

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 12:18 p.m. CST

    Those bullet hits, man, those things HURT

    by nixflix007

    I have to say, I have NO IDEA how they do those bullet hits, but goddamn, those looks like it HURTS. Hell, just watching them, *I* flinch each time someone gets shot, just like in Saving Private Ryan. Those bullet hits, man, whoever came up with them deserves some kind of an Oscar, cause that's just, damn. That's some good stuff.

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 12:55 p.m. CST

    Band Of Brothers is the best!

    by moggythecat

    HBO is still going for the guts. I have to say I am not a war movie buff, but this was a very well thought out mini-series. Plus the characters are there but not overbearing. Very good job on cast and crew!

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 1:30 p.m. CST

    Niflix (or whatever your name is...sorry, I have a terrible memo

    by crimsonrage

    ...the bullet hits are done with air compression. The actors themselves push the button to set off the bullet hits. If you watch the second episode when they are knocking out the German guns, one of the Germans obviously has a little device in his hand when he gets shot. Look for it in a rerun. Moving on...in the third episode when the American soldiers are holding the Nazi flag, did anyone notice that one of them said "Cool". Isn't that a little anachronistic? Also, in the Ain't It Cool News gray background, doesn't it look like King Kong has a giant, erect wiener?

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 2 p.m. CST

    re: crimsonrage and the "cool" flag

    by Brother Putney

    At the risk of sounding like an Aaron Sorkin character (which isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as I can be Sam Seaborne) according to my Dictionary of American slang, use of the word "cool" to characterize something as "great or excellent" seems to have originated around 1946 in West Coast jazz circles. Since the scene in question took place in the summer of 1943, it seems unlikely that a G.I. would've used that word but... maybe not entirely impossible. Along similar lines, the word "hello" wasn't coined until the invention of the telephone in 1893, which means that when you see pre-1893 dramas where people say "hello" it's inaccurate. English speaking people were using most terms of popular profanity before they were saying "hello." But back to the Brothers, i'm curious: what was the second flag they showed when the two soldiers were comparing trophies? The camoflaged one. I couldn't see it clearly.

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 6:41 p.m. CST

    Love the show but...

    by coop

    First I wanna say I commend HBO on taking the risk of putting so much money and this huge project and that I am enjoying it very much. That said, I don't really feel it like I did while watching Private Ryan. After 4 episodes, it doesn't really give me that horror of war feeling any more than regular war movies. Ryan was unrelenting and horrifying in the fight scenes. I remember watching Ryan the first time and thinking, holy shit, I don't think I could handle this, these people are true heroes that I couldn't measure up to, I couldn't honestly say I would not be hiding in a safe place while the fighting was going on. In this series I think, I could do that, sure I could get killed but it seems like if you are smart you can make it through. I don't know what is more realistic but from what I hear from people who were there, it would be more the reaction I had from watching Private Ryan.

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 7:24 p.m. CST

    An answer for Coop

    by Zubalove

    I think, and don't quote me on this, I think it was a reserve 'shute. I know material was pretty valuable to girls back home, later in the episode someone else had his 'shute in order for his girl to make a wedding dress. I don't know.... I'm just tired from waiting up all night to catch Cowboy Bebop. I am Zubalove.... hear me snore.

  • Sept. 23, 2001, 8:15 p.m. CST

    Zubalove

    by coop

    I think you meant an answer for Brother Putney.

  • Sept. 24, 2001, 5:07 a.m. CST

    A Bridge Too Far

    by droog

    Operation Market Garden was also the focus of the all-star Richard Attenborough movie "A Bridge Too Far", which pulled off the massive parachute drop without the benefits of CGI and is all the more impressive because of it. anyway, it was a good BoB episode, even if it strayed quite a bit from what was presented in the book, and sorta gave the impression that the operation was a failure just because of what happened at Nuenen...

  • Sept. 24, 2001, 9:07 a.m. CST

    Brother Putney, Coop...

    by crimsonrage

    I was thinking that "cool" might have come into existence at the time the episode took place, but only the "cool elite" would know it. What the hell am I talking about? Moving on...Coop, I agree with you %100 percent on these battle scenes in comparison with those of "SPR"...I think "SPR's" battle scenes were more jarring because they were either based on a large battle (D-Day) or one that is entirely fabricated (the big shootout at the end). Therefore, Spielberg could get away with showing tons of people getting shot, with guts and such strung out everywhere, whereas the directors of the show have to follow history (if only 2 guys were killed in a battle, then Mr. Nutter or whoever can't show row after row of men getting mowed down with machine gun fire. Likewise, if one of those two men was shot in the leg and later died of an infection, and the other guy tripped and hit his head on a rock, Mr. Nutter can't show them with their intestines hanging out or their arms blown off.) And of course, Mr. Spielberg is a far more accomplished director then the flock of TV directors shooting "Band of Brothers".