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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Set during the muddy bloody campaign in the Hürtgen Forest, which preceded the much more widely known Ardennes offensive (aka the 'Battle of the Bulge), this HBO NYC made for TV movie benefits from a production style not a million miles from HBO's big budget war-series hits Band of Brothers and Pacific. That style is gritty and dour, and not at all shy of depicting the grimmer side of war.

The story starts with the central character, private Manning, bringing back a wounded buddy. It soon transpires that Manning is the sole survivor of his platoon. Against a backdrop of his own fatigue and reluctance to take on responsibility, augmented by accusations of cowardice, he nevertheless finds himself promoted to sergeant.

In his new role he's given charge of a squad of fresh-faced replacements. Their first patrol, whilst not disastrous, very nearly goes badly wrong, and not long after this a general assault begins, drawing the rookie recruits into the maelstrom of war. The combat sequences are superbly done, and the actors do a good job of conveying the bewildering disorienting effects of suddenly facing battle.

Manning ends up, somewhat against his wishes - he's angling for a 'section 8' discharge - leading an important tactical raid on a German gun emplacement that's been making mincemeat of his mother unit as it seeks to take and secure a bridge. All the while the uneasy ambivalence between bravery and cowardice continues to simmer.

As well as tackling how both replacements and veterans cope with the high levels of stress, reactions ranging from coolly matter of fact to gung-ho or just losing it, the film also addresses the issues of power hierarchies, command, obedience, etc.

All these themes come to a head in an interesting finale, which I'll refrain from describing, but which utilises a clever and (I think) very successful narrative ploy to show both the self-perpetuating nature of conflict, and its grimly relentless and seemingly pointless costs.
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on 20 April 2017
Not good for the British and American soldiers
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on 5 June 2017
Forgotten story of Hurtgen forest - as Germans were leathal and not just useless Hitlers stooges.
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on 24 March 2017
Great DVD
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 October 2012
This very little known film took me completely by surprise and it was a very pleasant surprise indeed. Now, don't get me wrong, this film is quite nightmarish and extremely violent and I do not think there is even one single "pleasant" moment in it - but on another hand this is a rarity in recent cinema, a war film with a solid scenario, credible characters, well filmed action scenes, quite a lot of developments we can not anticipate and a really surprising, very strong ending...

Director John Irvin made earlier (in 1987) another excellent (and also little known) war film, "Hamburger Hill". In this one he did almost as well. As for "Hamburger Hill" he selected actors who are not really known (well, at least I didn't know them) and he worked them very hard indeed - in the film we can almost REALLY see the terminal exhaustion slowly breaking people who just reached the very limit of their strength... As in "Hamburger Hill", the cast is exclusively male, the language is strong and the occasional jokes fly at the lowest possible level... However the butcher bill in this film is much, much heavier than in "Hamburger Hill" as here, the enemy has not only light weapons but also artillery and tanks.

Most of this movie was turned in a natural park in Hungary and the forest is indeed a very savage place, with enough fog and undergrowth to hide entire squads waiting in ambush, and enough steep hills and muddy banked rivers to stop in its tracks any amount of armor - which is exactly what happened in 1944-45 in the Hurtgen Forest and what made this battle so bloody for both sides. With only a handful of tanks managing to slip here or there and the positions of both sides being so close (sometimes only 25 metres separated Americans from Germans!) that air support was ruled out, the battle had to be waged as in 1914-17, with infantry and artillery... And the results were exactly the same as during the WWI - a long, exhausting, overextended slaughter.

Military details were well respected. On both sides soldiers carry weapons they really carried in 1944-45 - Garands, Thompsons and Browning BARs for Americans and Mauser 98, MP40 and MG42 for Germans. Hungarian army also helped with some of its hardware and as the result old Soviet M1939 85 mm anti-aircraft guns played in this film very convincingly the legendary German "acht-acht" (88 mm) anti-aircraft guns, which also happened to be one of the best antitank and infantry support weapons of World War II... Also, at one moment we can see a pair of Soviet-made self-propelled 2S1Gvozdika howitzers - once fitted with "schurzen" (thin lateral armor plates), additionnal turret armor and some camouflage nets, they can pass for the last variants of Panzer-IV which in 1944-45 would indeed wear quite a lot of additionnal armor and camouflage...

The scenario is not stupid at all and the ending is particularly strong. It is also a very good thing that although everybody curses and bitches all the time against the "stupid army", there is virtually no villain amongst the officers. It is true that the lieutenant-colonel and the captain seem to be extremely ruthless - but they are just doing their job and we realize soon enough that if they show any weakness their whole batallion will collapse and run... There is also one of the officers who ultimately will loose it because of being repeatedly shell shocked, but even then we can hardly see him as a villain... In fact in the whole film there is no villains or heroes - everybody is trapped in this seemingly neverending battle...

So, to conclude, this is a very, very good war film, which keeps a high quality of scenario and action from the beginning to the end. I am very happy that I discovered it and I am certain that any war films fan will be delighted after watching it. Enjoy!
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on 22 October 2016
It's a shame, this is a story which needs to be told, it's just this film tells is very badly. The acting and dialogue is largely inept, the music score is poor. The tenet of the story is supposed to be about leadership and that is very confused. I wasn't as disappointed with some of the battle scenes as some other people but they were not in the league as the likes of Saving Private Ryan. I would not buy this again.
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Gone through a phase where all I wanted to watch were war movies and this was a cracker
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on 26 March 2017
Good story
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on 11 February 2017
Not the greatest of films about WW2 but more what I'd call hangover tv. Bit slow
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on 22 January 2004
Releasing a war film at the same time as Saving Private Ryan probably isn't the smartest thing to do, and it is a great pity that this film was so ignored. A made-for-TV flick, it plays more like an arthouse production than it's War-is-hell counterparts.
It is set during the battle of Hurtgen Forest, a particularly bloody battle in American history. Focusing on lowly Private D. Manning, the film begins as he carries the only other man from his platoon that wasn't massacred through the misty woods. Nobody except him knows what befell the unit, and frankly nobody cares, as he is immediately, against his will, promoted to Sergeant and sent back in to the "Death Factory" with a batch of fresh recruits. For him, history seems to be repeating itself, certain that these youngsters are soon to die as well.
If Private Ryan's style of shooting evoked combat footage, this musters something of the feeling of war photography, framing the story neatly and functionally, and often fading into sepia tones like O Brother, Where Art Thou? Directed by John Irvine it bears resemblances to Hamburger Hill but certainly stands on its own two feet.
The strength of the film over others is the central character's ambiguity. Is he a reluctant fighter, some sort of lucky freak, or just a plain heartless coward? It is certain, however, that this man is no hero.
The cast is completed made up of unknowns, none of which have really got anywhere since which is unfortunate as the acting is largely strong. Where the film fails, inevitably, compared to Ryans' big-budget spectacle, is its action, shot more traditionally. But don't miss it- this is a benchmark for how TV should be made
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