A Midnight Clear (1991)
Review by HTQ4

Written and Directed by Keith Gordon, based on the novel by William Wharton
Starring Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross, Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise


Anamorphic: Nope; presented in full screen.
My Advice: Skip it.

Sergeant William Knott (Hawke) is the leader of a Recon Squad on the Franco/German border in the waning days of WWII. As he puts it, he was promoted because he was one of the few of his squad that survived. He is ordered to lead his current squad to an abandoned chateau near the border and run recon missions to scout for a large invasion force, rumored to be in the area. They settle in to the chateau and learn that there is a squad of Germans in a nearby hut on pretty much the same mission. What they are not ready for is the fact that this group of German soldiers may be trying to surrender to Allied forces because of the failing German war effort in Berlin.

Gary Sinise leads a capable cast through a script that is, unfortunately, flawed. His character, nicknamed Mother, is the oldest member of the squad and also the one that is already dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Sinise, as always, is perfect. He is consistent and thorough in his performance. Hawke is the exact opposite; playing his character way too internally. Not once in this film did he ever step outside his own head to share anything with his fellow actors or with us, the audience. It is unfair to the members of his ensemble, because they had to work twice as hard to make up for his unwillingness to commit to any action.

The rest of the ensemble is well cast, but there are strengths and weaknesses there, too. For example, Frank Whaley, Dillon and Gross played the same characters we always see them in and they don't try to do anything new with them either. On the other hand, John C. McGinley really takes his character and makes you want to kick the crap out of him. The film as a whole seems to want to distance itself from the audience. Never once did I feel that I was being allowed into these characters' lives. I felt like I was being forced to watch it from a great distance. I was not allowed to feel how cold it was in the wintertime there, nor was I allowed to feel their fear when they discovered that there were Nazis in the area.

I did get the feeling that the soundtrack tried to make up for this somehow, but it didn't help much. I felt more like I was being manipulated into feeling a certain way rather than being trusted to feel how I wanted to feel about the story being presented--and I didn't like it. Perhaps the only thing this film has going for it is that it is beautifully shot. Even the accuracy of the period military costumes seems to be missing. The only reason to really watch this movie is for Sinise's performance, but he's not in the movie enough to warrant it being rented on that account.

The DVD treatment is not that much to write home about, but at least it has a director's commentary track; altough, why Hawke is on it too is beyond me. I don't know whether it is that they are ten years removed from the making of this movie, or that they just didn't do their research, but they sound like they don't know what the hell they're talking about all the way through their talk. I lost count of the number of times that I caught Hawke using words like "funner". Every time Hawke made a definitive statement about anything, he would follow it by asking Gordon is it was correct or not.

When Gordon did say something that might have led to something relevant, it immediately turned into something so stupid as to not make much sense. The only thing that I found interesting was that while they were recording this commentary track, Gordon was in L.A. and Hawke was in New York. They didn't go into detail about how they rigged it, but the fact that they did simultaneously instead of splicing it together later is really cool. Most of the deleted scenes were done so with the well-being of the film being of the highest importance, but the scenes featuring Sinise should not have been cut under any circumstances. There is a flashback scene where their Drill Sergeant was really talking horribly about Mother's wife--it could very well have been Sinise's first Oscar clip had it been left in the film. However, for the most part, the cut scenes would have done nothing to better the film had they been left in.

If you really are looking for a reason to see this film, see it because it marks Sinise's film debut as an actor. (Yes, he had done a couple of things on TV, but this was his first feature film). Other than that, you might as well skip this one.

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