MORIARTY Reviews BAND OF BROTHERS: "Bastogne"
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
As I sit down to write this week’s review for BAND OF BROTHERS, I have CNN playing in the background, and I’m listening to Osama Bin Laden’s translated speech about September 11th and our response. I am sickened by the ideological drivel he’s spewing, and after just watching the disturbing documentary THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM the other night, I can’t help but be struck by the similarities in what he says to the rantings of another two-bit pedagogue, a greasy little German man who wanted to reshape the world according to his fanatic views. This all makes it hard for me to focus, but I’m going to try since this week’s episode of HBO’s outstanding BAND OF BROTHERS is one of the best and covers one of the key moments in WWII, the Battle Of The Bulge.
Credit Bruce C. McKenna for writing an exceptional script for this installment, boiling down a complicated military engagement into a profoundly personal and human story. David Leland directs expertly, and there are a few moments here that would be listed among the most effective in the whole series. Shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was, since I didn’t immediately remember Leland’s name. He’s a really good filmmaker with a quiet, keen intelligence about his work. WISH YOU WERE HERE back in 1987 made me believe that Emily Lloyd might actually be a star, and THE LAND GIRLS is a gentle film filled with great longing. Neither picture suggests anything like his work here. Once again, director of photography Remi Adefarasin does a magnificent job, creating an atmosphere as effective and memorable as anything you’ll see on a big screen this year.
I’d like to single out one member of the creative team this week, though, since this is an episode that particularly highlights his enormous contribution. Anthony Pratt is the production designer on this enormous project, and recreating Bastogne and its surrounding forests this week is a challenge he met with aplomb. It’s a surreal frozen hell that he’s built, and it’s utterly convincing at all times. There’s a thick blanket of fog wrapped around everything in the woods, limiting visibility, and Pratt and his team make full use of that. I can’t imagine fighting under the conditions shown here, but the men of Easy Company continue to do more than anyone could expect, digging in and holding on against insane odds. Thanks to Pratt, you understand exactly what it was they were facing during that horrific winter. It’s awards-worthy work, and should be remembered next year.
This week’s episode starts with survivor interviews, as they all do, and it’s particularly hard stuff. There’s no light memories when it comes to Bastogne. They talk about the conditions there, the feeling of being overwhelmed. “We were down to one round per man in some cases,” one man remembers. “Every time they tried to drop supplies, they missed and dropped them to the Germans.” There’s talk of a man whose arm was blown off asking someone to retrieve his watch. There’s talk of other injuries, of a learned hatred for the cold, of effects felt even today. It sets the stage for an episode that truly feels hopeless.
Each week, the show has nimbly shifted point of view, giving us a moment in the war through a different person’s eyes. This week, the focus is squarely on Medic Eugene Rowe, played by Shane Taylor. Taylor’s a newcomer to film, and this is a major role to be handed. He brings a quiet grace to his role, and instead of taking the opportunity to play big, Taylor’s work is restrained, authentic, persuasive. By the end of the hour, I felt an affinity for this character that hasn’t really happened with any other member of Easy Company so far. More than any of the others, I got a glimpse at what this war did to this person, how it changed them. Winters and Nixon seem to have found themselves in the war, moving up the chain of command by virtue of some natural ability and accumen. With Rowe, he knew his place from the start of the war, and it’s the things he’s witnessed that are starting to change him, and there’s a chance it’s not for the better.
The episode opens with an extended sequence that follows Rowe on his attempts to scrounge whatever medical supplies he can. Bandages and morphine are a constant need, as well as things like plasma and even scissors. By following him, we get a look at the way all of the 101st is laid out, how they’re dug in, what the front is like. It’s an ingenious way to show us an entire picture of what it was like for the men who were there. There’s giant gaps in the line, that fog making visibility a joke, soldiers wandering lost across enemy lines and back almost at will. When the bombing of the forest begins, it’s always without warning, and it stops the same way. There’s a feeling of always being on alert, always being afraid. There are no fires. There is no relief from the cold. A hot meal is a preposterous luxury. Everyone has infections and coughs and complaints, and Rowe does what little he can. When Lt. Toye (Kirk Acevedo, who HBO viewers probably recognize from his excellent work on OZ) has his shoes blown up, Rowe tries to help him battle advancing frostbite and trenchfoot. The conditions go beyond hellish, and we see how Rowe is almost rendered numb by the constant litany of woe that is laid on him.
There’s something that really seems to be evident in this episode that I’ve noticed over the course of this series so far. There’s a suggestion that there is heroism of all stripes on a battlefield, but none is quite like the heroism of the medics. Everyone is under fire, but most of the soldiers are dug into their holes, armed, returning fire the whole time. Not Rowe. He’s the one who has to respond to that cry every time. “MEDIC!!” He’s the one scrambling across the field of fire, diving from hole to hole, working quickly to save lives, tuning out everything around him. There’s another side to this that’s equally well illustrated this week, too. There’s a combat patrol at one point that goes out, and Rowe is left behind for his own good. All he can do is sit and wait and listen to the distant sound of gunfire and explosions. His whole purpose in the war is defined by that time waiting, and it’s horrible. There’s nothing for him to do until one of these men is hurt. He has to live with them, be friends with them, be involved in their daily lives, then fix them when they are torn apart.
One injury in particular is too great for Rowe to repair, and he rides with the injured man into the town of Bastogne, where the Red Cross hospital has been set up in a shelled-out church. The town is totally cut off, so none of the injured can be evacuated. The nurses work to ease the overall suffering, but the conditions are unthinkable. One French nurse, Anna (Rebecca Okot), begins a sort of friendship with Rowe that evolves over the course of a series of trips into Bastogne. It’s not a romance. There’s no furtive kisses or intimacy. Instead, it’s just a connection, a fleeting sort of bond formed by the shared burden they both carry. It’s expressed through the gift of a chocolate bar or shared cigarettes. Both of these actors are great, and there’s a lyrical, aching quality to these moments. Such strength and such frailty both expressed in the same scenes... it’s powerful stuff, and it’s small, in the details of things. No one’s grandstanding here.
Everyone sees some death during the war. That’s just part of war. But Rowe and this nurse... they see it all. They are witnesses, there just to verify death as much as they are to save life. It has a cumulative effect on them, and it comes to a head on Christmas. It’s a brutally sad sequence, and right at the start of it, we realize that Rowe has reached his breaking point. When the attack begins and the first cry of “MEDIC!” rings out, Rowe cannot respond. He is frozen inside and out. It takes Winters dragging him from his foxhole to snap him out of his daze, to get him moving. He makes his final visit into Bastogne that night, and what he finds there is a nightmare. The arrival of Patton’s forces and the horrific firefight that erupts is portrayed as a vision of the world gone mad, fire lighting up the sky. Returning from that devastation, Rowe repairs a wound in the hand of Babe Heffron (Robin Laing). What he uses to repair that wound took me off-guard, shocked me, and actually brought me to tears. It’s a reminder, a symbol of how we pick up and we carry on during war, no matter what, no matter how hard. It’s a small but significant symbol, and it broke my heart.
The episode closes with a series of title cards that explains that the story of the Battle Of The Bulge is typically told to show how General Patton saved the surrounded 101st on Dec. 26th, 1944, and how no member of the 101st has ever agreed that they needed to be rescued. No matter how bad the conditions were at Bastogne, those soldiers were there to do something, and they weren’t going to leave until they did it. I am particularly moved by this sentiment as our own troops are in Afghanistan tonight, and I want to wish success and safety to the men and women in that distant place. Watching this episode today underlined the enormous sacrifice they are being asked to make, and it also underlines, for me, the importance of this story and the achievement that BAND OF BROTHERS truly is.
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Oct. 7, 2001, 10:28 p.m. CST
There is one notion I've heard repeated time and again since Sept. 11th... That the terrorists responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (as well as the vast majority of those still at large) are, at the very least, brave men filled with conviction and faith. Brave men who gladly look death in the face wihout flinching. This is incorrect. Not true. Complete bunk. These men are not brave. They are not fearless in the face of death. They are not willing to make the "ultimate" sacrifice for thier cause. They are simply naive. Taken advantage of by an small group of manipulative ringleaders. Let me explain. First off, this specific theory applies mainly to terrorist foot soldiers. (My theory on what motivates ringleaders is different and I will share that some other time). In all likelyhood, the average terrorist, from a very early age, lives a horrible life. Poverty, violence, repression... you name it... they live it. As anyone who has looked at the situation of Middle Eastern and Central Asian Muslims can easliy see - this is one screwed-up region. Most people have next to nothing. They live in mud huts or holes in the ground. They can't say what they want. They can't date who they want. They can't go to the movies they want. They can't party. The one thing then can do is try to stay alive and pray. That said, why do we expect terrorists to give a damn whether they live or die? Hell, considering that these guys actually believe this load of crap about an afterlife orgy, everlasting - they'd be crazy NOT to want to go... Which brings me to my overall point... Who has more courage? The man who gives up nothing for everything, or the man who gives up everything for nothing? People say Americans have no courage. I say they are wrong. In every war, Americans have given up life, liberty and in most cases some measure of happiness to fight for God and country. American men stormed the beaches of Normandy, KNOWING they probably wouldn't make it. They left behind wives, cars, kids, movies, great pizza, beer, dogs and baseball. They went in knowing that they could (and probably would) lose everything they cherish. Yet they went in anyway. They went in with no promise of everlasting life in the greatest place ever imagined. At best, for those that beleived in some form of God, they did what they had to do with the notion of "final judgement" hanging over thier heads. Now THAT is courage. These same acts of incredible bravery have been repeated throughout the history of America. The Revolution, Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Kosovo, the attack on NYC. In every one of these situations, Americans willingly risked EVERYTHING - for nothing. For the good of man. No personal gain. No guaranteed reward. That, my friends, is courage. These Muslim Fundamentalist Terrorists are cowards. They are weak and petty. They think of themselves when they kill. They are evil and must be exterminated. Ringleaders and foot soldiers alike.
Oct. 8, 2001, midnight CST
Moriarty, my son. Heartfelt review as always, thanks. These really are the pivotal episodes in this work, the strength of which is primarily constructed - as you say - on the small things, on the personal details and responses. It's an ambitious approach to render the overall-macro-brutality of war through a micro approach, but it's paying off I think, because of the trust in the actors NOT to grandstand and grab for the big Emmy moment, to be still and quiet and pay attention to the routine and the behavioural quirks in between the bouts of carnage. And since some of the dialogue, frankly, does let the series down by becoming mired in exposition and terse but stereotypically blunt exchanges, it's the physicality of each performance in and out of battle - each man's way of carrying himself, holding himself together - that provides this collective heft to the drama. Tonight's "Bastogne" was extremely effective precisely because of that (were there more than 200 words total in the script?): reducing everything to a primitive environment and simply showing what that does to soldiers, and how they cope with it - or not. My grandfather fought through North Africa and up into Italy for three years, and he would occasionally (after a few drinks) tell stories, some of guys who couldn't stand the "waiting", the tedium in between the fighting, who would start something, ANYthing - even among their own troops - just to break the tension. I think of him when I watch this show. And I just run out of words.
Oct. 8, 2001, 12:47 a.m. CST
Great episode but we all wondered..in the scene where the Germans were making the armored assault and all the 101st had to stop them were some 30cal machine guns and motars...how did they stop them?
Oct. 8, 2001, 1:28 a.m. CST
...but I wish I wouldn't have watched "The Making of 'Band of Brothers'" before I saw this episode, because the whole time I was distracted by the set. Most of the time it was pretty convincing, but sometimes it was way too obvious that we were looking at a flat painting behind those trees. Still a great episode.
Oct. 8, 2001, 7:02 a.m. CST
FUCKdriven is one naive person. Enough said.
Oct. 8, 2001, 8:55 a.m. CST
...after Tom Hanks was in 'Apollo 13,' he helped to get 'From the Earth to the Moon' made. After he was in 'Saving Private Ryan,' he helped to get 'Band of Brothers' made. Next year, can we expect a ten-part HBO miniseries about gangsters in the 1930s? Seems like every big historical flick Hanks is in, there's an HBO miniseries that sprouts out of it. BTW, I missed 'FTETTM' and have been pretty much ignoring 'BOB' ('SPR' was fine the first time for me), so this isn't meant as a statement on the quality of the shows, just an observation.
Oct. 8, 2001, 9:43 a.m. CST
by Purple Toupee
Ummm....I wouldn't necessarily say that FUCKdriven's response was ignorant. Did you read past the first two sentences? BTW, good episode of BOB last night.
Oct. 8, 2001, 9:50 a.m. CST
I was wondering the exact same thing: how did Easy company stop the German armored assault? It was like "here they come!" and then cut to the hospital. Noooo!
Oct. 8, 2001, 10:54 a.m. CST
...and she was french-speaking belgian, but that's really nit-picking.
Oct. 8, 2001, 11:48 a.m. CST
That's what struck me as I watched this episode last night. The medic never wore a gun, never handled a gun, and had to run around a battlefield with absolutely no way to fight back. It didn't even look like the guy was carrying a knife. That definitely takes some courage. Not to mention faith in your fellow soldiers. And I think that FUCKdriven has a point in what he was saying. These terrorists seem to operate much the same way many cults in America do, preying on the disenfrenchised, brainwashing them with their dogma, and then sending them into airports to beg for money. Only instead of begging for money, these people are sent to die. And to kill. Not that I'm giving the suicide bombers an excuse like, "Aw, look at the poor bomber who was tricked into killing people." I just think it puts another perspective on thinks. I know it seems trivial to try and compare the goings on in the world to a movie, but this is AICN so I'll do it anyway. It sorta reminds me of what Wolverine said to Magneto (and you'll have to forgive me, I'm at work and don't have the exact quote at my fingertips). "If you were really so righteous, It'd be you in that machine." Think about that Osama.
Oct. 8, 2001, 12:14 p.m. CST
This is one of those times I wish I had HBO; this seems like a wonderful series. To anyone who's seen it: do they keep that one tiny sliver of humor about The Battle of the Bulge, the American commander who replied to a Nazi order to surrender? The famous "Nuts!" response?
Oct. 8, 2001, 12:17 p.m. CST
I could tell it had some relevance by the look on his face, but I couldn't tell what it was or who it formerly belonged to.
Oct. 8, 2001, 1:09 p.m. CST
by Mr. Exlax
Darn relatives were visiting this week and they had control of the remote they insisted on watching the news of us bombing the crap out of the Taliban not a bad thing actually when I wanted to see BOB buy the time I got the remote back the show ended oh well there is always reruns.
Oct. 8, 2001, 1:46 p.m. CST
It was a nurses hat or apron. The church that was being used as a hospital was bombed. The medic stood in the doorway and looked in at the wreckage filling the church basement. He KNEW Renee was dead and took the cloth as a reminder. (Reminded me strongly of what the firefighters must have felt like looking at the 60' high piles of rubble that was the World Trade Center and knowing that people they cared about were inside.)
Oct. 8, 2001, 2:02 p.m. CST
I think this series is about the best thing I have ever seen on televsion, but this was my least favorite episode. That's probably because the other episodes have stayed so close to the book and the actual events. This whole story with the Roe and the nurse, is not in the book, so I can only guess that it was created by the writer or producers. (Also, the characterization of Roe in this episode is not consistant with the characterization of Roe in the book.) The thing that makes the series so powerful for me is that most of what we are seeing actually happened, and when they start incorporating fictional stories, it's less moving to me. It starts to feel manipulative. There are so many incredible true stories in the book, I wish they would stick with telling them, rather than fiction, no matter how well written or realized.
Oct. 8, 2001, 5:58 p.m. CST
Hmmm...I take your point, I felt manipulated by the contrived characters and situations in Saving Private Ryan, but for this episode I have to disagree that it was a bad episode or that the characterization of Roe was inconsistent with the book. In particular, see the comments of Lt. Foley regarding Roe, "...I never knew except that if any man who struggled in the snow and the cold, in the many attacks through the open and through the woods, ever deserved such a medal, it was our medic, Gene Roe." Because of that passage I was glad they did this episode. It felt like a proper tribute, even if the charater in the series was nothing like the real Roe. It did not have the contrived and patchwork grandiose "isn't this incredibly honorable and horrible, and don't you feel bad for forgetting what these corageous men did...so let's put together as many honorable and horrible stories together as we can so we can RAM IT DOWN YOUR THROAT A LITTLE FURTHER..." feel of SPR, it was much more tasteful in its restraint and few words, and the direction and acting were superb, but M covered that so I'll leave that alone. And even if one was annoyed with the lack of connection to the real Roe which the other characters have benefited somewhat from, perhaps all the other medics that the character was modeled on might be properly given their due in recognition for their suffering and courage as well. Great episode, and another great review M. PEACE
Oct. 8, 2001, 10:52 p.m. CST
Roe used the handkerchief that Renee was wearing over her hair for Babe's hand. I assumed it was hers and not some generic nurses kerchief from the attention drawn to it when she removed it during their last meeting, and the look of horror on his face as he looked into the weckage. Much like the shooting of the enemy soldiers in the first or second episode, they never showed us what he saw, and well, less is more after all. But even if it wasn't specifically hers, it was all he had left of her.
Oct. 8, 2001, 11:32 p.m. CST
I too was a little disappointed when they didn't show Easy Company repel the armored assault on their line. Having read the book and knowing a few things about what happened in WWII, I can tell you that Easy Company did repel the German assault. Throughout the defense of Bastogne the Allies repeled many armored attacks like the one in last night's episode through a combination of machine guns, mortars and artillery. The Germans didn't know how underequipped Easy Company and the rest of the Allies were in Bastogne otherwise they would have overtaken the town. Easy Company did what they always did while on that line, they pushed away any German attack thrown at them. That's the short version anyway. As for another question about Medic Roe not having a gun or weapon of any kind, that is accurate. Medics are not supposed to carry weapons and they are not supposed to be fired upon by the enemy either under the Geneva Convention. This doesn't mean that medics weren't shot at sometimes or hit by stray bullets and shrapnel. To answer InvaderZim, yes they did include the famous "Nuts" story, but I am sure you have seen the rerun already. Great episode and I hope my answers helped more than they confused.
Oct. 9, 2001, 5:09 a.m. CST
Could any one of us possibly do what these guys did?I would have to be honest with myself that I could not.Those guys back then actually saved the world which sounds really comic booky but it's true and now it seems like all young people do is make fun of these old guys.They did more good in their lives before they were 30 than any of us will do if we lived til 130.Now more than ever we should realize that.God Bless America and Great Britain and death to Osama Bin Laden!!
Oct. 9, 2001, 9:53 a.m. CST
I read two articles last night searching for info on the veterans. The first was an interview with Carwood Lipton, and he stated that at his recommendation Ambrose softened up the reason why Buck Compton was evacuated from the front. He said he was sorry that the movie was not so forgiving. And the second article was an interview with Neal McDonough who plays Compton. He said that after Buck Compton saw the whole series he called Neal up and demanded a meeting, where he told Neal he completely approved of his portrayal. Something tells me that we're going to see a total meltdown next week that Ambrose PURPOSEFULLY left out of the book. The book is not always the authority, and one perspective may differ from another with so many telling the story... BTW see the following website for pics of the reunion in France <www.bandofbrothers.freeservers.com>
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