I’m an avid WWII aficionado so when Brad Pitt rolled into town as the grizzled veteran commanding a Sherman tank in closing months of the war, I was immediately all-in. The reviews were moderate but I rarely focus simply on reviews before seeing the film and was looking forward to drinking in the details.
Initially the film took me by the scruff of the neck and refused to let go. The acting was perfect, the interplay between hardened veterans was almost without fault, even the gasping responses of the stone cold rookie added a spicy ingredient to the mix. The interior of the tank and all the military uniforms, equipment, camps, and vehicles were touched with a patina of age and dirt – appropriate for the European Theater of War. I was completely lost in the carefully crafted ambience – until I wasn’t.
The opening scene set the tone for the entire film with Brad Pitt launching himself from a position of cover onto an unsuspecting german soldier. A few well-placed although graphically depicted stab wounds later, Pitt emerges grimly victorious. To say this film is graphic and brutal hardly touches on the matter. At its center, the main characters are deeply flawed and in many ways broken from the drudgery of combat. That grinding wheel has worn away their civilized-selves and left behind a gaping hole which, apparently, can only be filled with dead Germans. Lots of dead Germans.
The story arch inches slowly toward a head-on collision between the tank crew, their new rookie – who is taking to the slaughter with aplomb – and an SS battalion. Though I normally avoid spoilers (read that again, potential spoiler incoming), the last 15 minutes of the film is where they lost me. The disabled tank sits in the middle of a crossroads while 300 battle hardened German SS soldiers attack. At this point, the audience is supposed to believe the Germans would disavow all their experience, training, tank-busting ability, and simply charge, weapons in hand, at the tank across open ground. Uh, not likely. And don’t get me started on the awkward scene where the tank crew encounter German Fräuleins. Just gave me shivers.
When the film ends, I’m left with a sense of … nothing, if I’m honest. I didn’t feel a sense of redemption, the thrill of victory, nor the satisfaction of seeing a tale well told. I walked out thinking I’d be hard pressed to see the film a second time and even with the ease of a RedBox rental looming close to home. Speaking of RedBox, I would rate this film a weak 3/5 stars and would urge a rental versus paying for the wholly unneeded theater experience.