Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/USA/China, 2014. Columbia Pictures, QED International, LStar Capital, Le Grisbi Productions, Crave Films, Huayi Brothers Media. Screenplay by David Ayer. Cinematography by Roman Vasyanov. Produced by David Ayer, Bill Block, John Lesher, Ethan Smith. Music by Steven Price. Production Design by Andrew Menzies. Costume Design by Maja Meschede, Anna B. Sheppard. Film Editing by Jay Cassidy, Dody Dorn. National Board of Review Awards 2014. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2014.
The feeling that you have already seen every possible take on World War II is forgotten within minutes of this exceptional drama, one whose scenes of graphic war violence make Saving Private Ryan look like a Disney cartoon. Its gory details aside, it is also a powerful character piece about survival on the battlefield, where staying alive is a matter of split-second decisions and personal feelings are a luxury that these men do not believe they can afford. Brad Pitt is the leader of a small group driving a tank through Europe towards the final days of the war, taking over villages from the dwindling powers of Nazi Germany. Logan Lerman is the newcomer who, thanks to the war department’s desperation to refill positions at the front, has arrived from a desk job with barely any training for active duty, plunged into a job as assistant driver of a tank and asked immediately to leave behind his sense of morality and shoot the enemy whenever necessary. The theme of innocence lost is too plainly dramatized and has already been done too many times to be particularly effective here, but the exceptional quality of the performances and the grim images of grey skies and muddy fields are incredible as director David Ayer’s increasingly terrifying conflicts move towards the devastating conclusion. It takes guts to make a film that focuses on loss in a war whose overall victory fashioned America’s reputation for a century, but Ayer keeps the bigger picture at bay and focuses his perspective close up on his characters, the destruction of a civilized world reflected in their faces as they interact in the tiny confines of their massive vehicle.