Re-View: Band of Brothers [TV miniseries] (USA/UK, 2001)

Band-of-Brothers-movie-poster-1020486406Directed by: Various. I’ll start off by admitting that (unsurprisingly) this is not nearly as good as it was when I was 14. And, of course, we’ll take it as read that this whole thing is just a giant load of pandering, uncritical, mainstream, asserting of All-American (white, hetero, masculine) patriotic values. For a giant epic about the gritty details of war, this thing is tremendously, utterly, completely uninterested in probing the WWII experiences of those veterans any deeper than: “They were regular boys who went over there, but they were a bunch of goddamn heroes. Heroes I say!” Yes, they lived through incredible hardships and went through amazing, horrifying, and completely remarkable experiences. Any hint on why they were over there, what were the incredibly complex and conflicting motivating factors that led a bunch of regular kids like that to end up in a situation like that? You know—that whole thing? But I guess for the author Stephen Ambrose, and the TV producers Tom Hanks and Spielberg, that was enough. And for the majority of the TV audience (and home-viewing VHS box set audience like myself), it definitely was enough. But, at the risk of sounding like an asshole, I’m not 14 anymore, and I can’t pretend that seeing the series this time around didn’t reveal all of its glaring faults to me pretty clearly. But I digress. This was still, for all that, a really enjoyable little semi-guilty pleasure. There’s certainly a ton of teenaged nostalgia in there for me, but it’s a technically well-done, expansive, immersive, and overall very impressive televisual achievement, propaganda and all. The performances are all pretty solid, with some notable exceptions. Damien Lewis’s performance as commanding officer Lt. Winters is a bit rigid, due to the unbelievably unabashed hero worship slowing him down. He’s not really allowed to play a human character because the character of Winters as constructed by Ambrose and Hanks, et al, is so rarefied and hagiographic that there’s not much room for a half decent actor (as Lewis obviously is) to maneuver. But overall, there was a lot of great acting from a cast that serves most of the time as a game of spot-the-actor (like my Harry Potter game). Starting with Lewis, who apparently is good in Homeland, and was definitely great as a villain in The Escapist; Ron Livingston (Capt. Nixon) is one of those guys who pops up everywhere—Office Space, a small part in Adaptation, and a fantastic turn in the last season of Boardwalk—and he’s always great; a surprisingly great supporting role from Donnie Wahlberg of the New Kids as Lipton, the heart and soul of the amazing Episode 7; an equally surprisingly great turn by David Schwimmer—yes, Ross from Friends—as the uptight, ridiculous, but incredibly complex and believable Capt. Sobel; a great supporting role from Dexter Fletcher (Sgt. Martin), who in my mind will forever be Soap from Lock Stock; as well as small roles from some of my favourite Brit/Irish actors Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and Stephen Graham (also from Boardwalk, from Snatch, The Damned United, Tinker Tailor, and a million other things); even a minor cameo from a young Simon Pegg! Not to mention, a ton of great performances from people I didn’t recognize, basically the entire cast. The only really distracting celebrity cameos that really didn’t hold their own as good performances were (unsurprisingly) Tom Hanks’ son Colin, who just felt a bit out of place and rigid (I’m willing to take the argument that this rigidity and out-of-place-ness was a deliberate choice that worked well with the character’s function, but regardless), and the mercifully brief but completely unforgivable and unnecessary cameo from Jimmy fucking Fallon. In the middle of Episode 6 or 7, the really juicy part of the story, the Battle of the Bulge, the whole fucking momentum of the story slows down so that some ding dong from Battalion can drive a Jeep in to deliver supplies and deliver some really poorly acted dialogue, a completely frivolous back-and-forth about supply lines that might be hidden beneath good acting if they hadn’t chosen Jimmy fucking Fallon to do it. As it is, the entire momentum grinds to an obvious halt, everyone goes “Oh hey! That’s Jimmy fucking Fallon from Saturday Night Live!”, and suddenly, you’re not in the Battle of the Bulge anymore, you’re in a goddamn HBO TV series with a bunch of actors with fake dirt on their faces, being fake out of breath because of the fake distress that the fake war is causing them. It’s enough to make you wonder if Jimmy Fallon doesn’t have some awful dirt on Tom Hanks or something, because short of a few dead hookers buried in the woods from a particularly out of control wrap party for Splash or something, there is no fucking excuse for that terrible, terrible, very nearly deal-breaking cameo on what is otherwise a fairly effective, well-done production. I’ll wrap it up here I guess by saying that this isn’t a particularly good series unless you’re already a fan going in. If you need to ask “Will I like this?”, then you already know your answer.

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2 responses to “Re-View: Band of Brothers [TV miniseries] (USA/UK, 2001)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: The Battle of the Bulge (USA, 1965) | Offhand Reviews·

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