Thursday 19 April 2012


Based on the novel by William Wharton, A Midnight Clear sees a group of young soldiers stationed in the Ardennes Forest, coming face to the face with a group of German soldiers near the end of World War II. Re-released to mark its 20th anniversary, A Midnight Clear stars a cast of young Hollywood talent at the start of their careers.

Taking its anti-war cues from Oliver Stone by depicting the futility of war and the effect it has on young men, A Midnight Clear is an often brutal portrayal of these soldier's own miniature war, waged around a remote house in the middle of a snow blanketed forest. Counting out the days of World War II, there's no grand battle that provides a definitive end to this war, just a collection of small scale skirmishes that chip away at the either sides war effort. Set in December 1944 and taking its title from a Christmas carol, like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and Apocalypse Now before it, the film uses a narrator to tell the story, in this case Ethan Hawke's Sgt Will Knott.

The film benefits from some poetic imagery, the likes of which I've never seen in a war (or anti-war) film before. As our soldiers are travelling down a snow covered road they encounter two men frozen in combat. Having succumbed to the cold winter, they're a snapshot of war in all its pointlessness. Had they not crossed paths both men could have lived, instead they've become a grotesque statue; victims of their own little war that didn't need to be. Add to that the scene where the squad of young men who have become a makeshift family (complete with characters called Mother and Father) bathe the corpse of one of their fallen friends.

20 years down the line, it's interesting to note where all the main figures are now. Peter Berg is now the director of Hollywood blockbusters like Battleship; Gary Sinise is the star of a hit TV show, same goes for Kevin Dillon. Ethan Hawke, the youngest member of the cast has had arguably the most success, becoming an indie leading man of sorts. It's disappointing that director Keith Gordon hasn't managed to cinematically equal the work he does here, moving into television directing on shows like Dexter. It's a great piece of work that should have led him onto bigger and better things, but that's yet to happen.

In a film full of surprising moments one scene stands out, when the troop of American soldiers are approached by an elderly German soldier and his two young comrades looking for a way to peacefully surrender without risking their lives. Knowing it could so easily be the other way around, Ethan Hawke's Sgt Knott locks eyes with the older soldier, and although they don't exchange words, both show that neither wants to die.

Aged 20 years, the contrast of these soldier's presence against the snowy blank canvas still looks good, particularly on blu-ray. Including a brief appearance from Oliver Stone regular John C. McGinley, the fresh faced cast all put in great performances. If you're wanting to pick holes, it's perhaps a bit of a stretch to imagine the then 37 year old Gary Sinise as a 26 year old soldier, but apart from that he's perfect for the role. Two years before his appearance as Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, here in his debut feature, he plays another soldier torn apart by the war going on around him. In a cast of talented young men, he's the stand out.

In the special features, director Keith Gordon talks about the rumour that the script for A Midnight Clear was used to audition the actors for Saving Private Ryan. He's apprehensive about believing it to be the truth, but it would certainly make sense. Despite being a story of war on a much smaller scale, A Midnight Clear deserves to be mentioned along with Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line as one of the 90's best war films.


Special Features: Trailer, 20 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary, A Winter's War - 50 minute documentary/conversation with director Keith Gordon.

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