The Morning After: Dec. 23, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Longest Day

Examining the D-Day invasion of Normandy from four sides, The Longest Day was one of the most ambitious war dramas ever produced. Collecting more than 40 big name stars, producer Darryl F. Zanuck performs a miraculous feat of filmmaking in one of his last productions, and final major one, before his death in 1979.

Pulling together prominent actors from American, British, French and German cinema, three directors craft a masterful exercise in filmmaking. Were the script, based on the exhaustively researched book by Cornelius Ryan, less reliant on tongue-in-cheek humor at unnecessary moments, it might have been a perfect film. The film starts off exploring the days leading up to the invasion, including the lives of soldiers, generals and resistance fighters as they struggle to cope with a broadening German presence in Europe. We are taken between scenes in Britain, France and Germany as each segment sets the stage for the events to come. Employing French and German-language dialogue with subtitles in scenes set in those locales added a nice touch of realism to the film, enhancing the overall universality of the project.

The German soldiers were presented with surprisingly balanced perspective, positioning some of them as mere cogs in a machine that had grown too big and too confident to avoid errors. The film humanizes nearly every character, helping the audience better understand the gravity of the situation as well as the real problems and issues faced by all those affected by the war.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

A crime gone bad finds a husband sent to prison while his pregnant wife remains behind to hold a candle for his return. Several years later, the husband escapes prison and makes his way, as promised, back home where he hopes to take his wife and young daughter away with him. Yet, life has moved on for her and her daughter and there are other forces that work that may ultimately prevent him from making it home and getting away.

As the husband, Casey Affleck delivers a superb performance, relying on his character’s purposeful destination as a source for hope, fear and survival instincts. While Rooney Mara as his wife has more emotional elements to her character, Affleck gives the better performance. Mara needs to find more roles in this vein to find her way in this business. Although she had a stellar debut in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she has been unable to parlay that into more success. This kind of performance should help that.

Ben Foster is a dependable supporting actor. As the cop who worries about the wife’s safety and slowly falls in love with her, he doesn’t have enough to do to tap into his natural talent. Keith Carradine has a thinly drawn character to perform and doesn’t give it more than perfunctory attention.

Writer/director David Lowery fills his film with bounteous style and visual panache, but those images aren’t supported by the script. It’s a standard, unassuming drama that drives forward without embellishment, excitement or inventiveness, which may be to the film’s detriment and its success.

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