Band of Brothers is a 2001 HBO miniseries based on the true story of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks produced miniseries is a mostly factual account of Easy Company’s exploits in World War II, drawing inspiration from the book of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose and Major Richard Winters.
The casting of this show is excellent. It’s strange, in a cool way, that members of the cast ended up exploding in popularity, but years, in some cases decades, later and for completely different projects. Damien Lewis would later go on to star in Showtime’s political spy thriller Homeland in 2011 as Nicholas Brody, Donnie Wahlberg is currently the star of the CBS procedural Blue Bloods, and Neal McDonough continues to be featured sporadically in various film and television projects. Unfortunately, the underutilized and underappreciated actor ends up being the best part of a forgettable or bad movie, and has yet to achieve anything equaling a major Hollywood breakthrough, which he definitely deserves. Michael Cudlitz had a starring role on the criminally underrated cancelled-too-soon cop drama Southland from 2009 to 2013. Also in blink-and-you’ll-miss bit parts are future (past) Magneto Michael Fassbender, future (past) Professor X James McAvoy, future Moriarity Andrew Scott, and future… um… everything Tom Hardy. It’s laughable to think, of all the eventual big-timers I just mentioned, the only name viewers knew at the time was comparatively the least talented: David Schwimmer. Indeed, while watching the first episode, my brother walked in and asked “Is that Ross Geller?”
Easy Company (no doubt due to the notoriety this award-winning miniseries received) is the most well-known company active during World War II. This notoriety is well-deserved; Easy Company remains one of the (if not the) most highly decorated units in the history of the United States Army. The company was essential in the initial European invasion (Operation Market Garden), held their own against German artillery in the Battle of the Bulge, and the capturing of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden. The company was an active fighting unit throughout the entirety of the United States’ involvement in the European Theater of War. This portion of the review may read like a history lesson, but when covering a historical miniseries such as this, a brief lesson of why exactly HBO, Hanks, and Spielberg thought Easy Company was so pertinent and interesting to cover over all other possibilities is necessary.
Both my great-grandfather and grandfather (My grandmother’s father and my grandmother’s future husband) were veterans of the war. My Grandpa Mike was a paratrooper in another company. I never learned much about Mike’s time in the war, but my Great Grandpa Orville had several interesting experiences I learned about from Grandma. Maybe my family history is why I find Band of Brothers so interesting and entertaining. At the time of this review (Memorial Day), this is my third viewing of the ten episode series. I meant to review the David Ayer film Fury from 2014, but circumstance lead me unable to obtain the film at this time. Not that I’m complaining about another opportunity to view this mastercraft of a miniseries.
Spielberg and Hanks previously collaborated on the award-winning war epic Saving Private Ryan in 1998. While a great film worthy of the praise it receives to this day, I prefer Band of Brothers on nearly every level. While understandably much lower in budget, comparatively, and therefore much lower in scale and action, I do not feel brutality is the main draw of Band of Brothers. As I’ve said in my recent reviews, I have recently come to the conclusion that the most important aspect of any successful work of fiction, over all other aspects of that work (in the majority of cases, though not all) is interesting and empathetic characters. The 169 minute Saving Private Ryan certainly does so, but the estimated 600-minute long total Band of Brothers beats it’s progenitor into the ground in this respect. The action in the miniseries admittedly feels extremely small in scale in comparison to the introductory sequences of the film, which are rightly considered legendary for both the filmmaking techniques, use of traditional and practical effects use over CGI, as well as historical accuracy. Unfortunately, I am unable to locate the actual sequence online to insert here, but I will say here that Saving Private Ryan is entertaining, awesome, and emotional and you should go watch it. However, though the Omaha Beach sequence is certainly nightmarish, haunting, depressing, and awe-inspiring in both the best and worst ways, some sequences of this miniseries are, arguably, more emotionally impactful than the film.
This scene, in my opinion, is more emotionally striking than any scene in Saving Private Ryan. Of course, this scene comes from the seventh chapter, so the miniseries has the advantage of using six previous hours to get us invested in these characters, which makes their departure all the more gut-wrenching. To add to the impact, you must remember that this actually happened. Joe Toye, Bill Guarnere, and Buck Compton are real soldiers, Toye and Guarnere really got their legs blown off, and the incident really did irrevocably scar Buck for the rest of his (notably well accomplished) life. None of the characters in Saving Private Ryan are real, and, with the exception of the Omaha Beach sequence, none of the events occurred in real life.
The above scene is punctuated by the usually charismatic, upbeat, and infallible Buck, in a moment of shock, fear, sadness, anger, and urgency, screams desperately for a medic. Here, Neal McDonough, in his final major appearance in the miniseries, produces the single most vulnerable character moment in the series, which is filled with vulnerable character moments. There is little, if any, spectacle in the series. The combat sequences are brief, violent, realistic, and at no point flashy or drawn out. Combat is (possibly due to budget) not heavily featured at all, in actuality. Instead, the series has a heavy narrative and dramatic focus.
It’s scenes like this that are why Band of Brothers is so well-regarded, and why I am able to binge it three times over in two years. It still makes me sad, angry, and sickened to see this and know it actually happened. This scene, thanks to the pitch perfect acting, realistic looking set and makeup, as well as the score, will never lose its edge.
In the name of entertainment, it is publicly acknowledged that at certain points, the series does take certain creative liberties. In general, I have no problem if film or television that is created expressly for the purpose of entertainment stretches the truth at certain points to make the piece of entertainment entertaining. It becomes offensive when you base something off of a true story and either A) stretch the truth to such levels that what was claimed to be a true story becomes a complete work of fiction or B) omit certain parts of the truth that may hinder the film in some way. Unbroken did this. During Louis Zamperini’s captivity, POWs were burned, stabbed, shot, and subjected to horrific medical experiments. After being freed, Zamperini went off the deep end, developed an alcohol and drug problem, and basically hit rock bottom really hard. He later converted to Christianity, got back on his feet, and became a pretty decent guy. Everything I just said was omitted from the film, because Angelina Jolie wanted to keep a cartoonishly annoying amount of “hope in the face of despair” hogwash in the film so it would be more likely to get an Oscar. The Academy loves its melodramatic uplifting (not very) true stories. Jolie took out and altered crucial narrative parts, and the worst part about it is she didn’t even do it to make a better film; if all the stuff she cut out was in the movie, it undeniably would’ve been a better movie! It was all in the name of an Oscar. This means the film is not only callously exploitive of Louis Zamperini, whom my best friend considers a hero, it is also simultaneously exploitive of the people, including my best friend, who view Zamperini a good man. It is a letdown to anyone wanting to see a good movie, and the film is amazingly, by some black magic, exploitive of the actual film itself.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really don’t like Unbroken. I only saw it once, I don’t want to see it again, and since I saw it before this blog started, I wanted to rail against it in an official capacity. Luckily, the same crimes cannot be charged against Band of Brothers. PLOT TWIST: Now that tangent is just barely relevant to this review meaning I can keep it in there and not feel like it’s irrelevant! 🙂 In fact, the series was praised by members of the real life Easy Company upon release, and is noted for mostly maintaining accuracy. The members of Easy Company approved episodes before airing. The actors contacted those they would be portraying prior to filming in order to nail the personality of the individual heroes. On a touching note, Lynn Compton’s 90th birthday celebration was attended by McDonough, Cudlitz, and Richard Speight, Jr. McDonough’s son is nicknamed “Little Buck” in honor of Compton.
Band of Brothers was nominated for twenty Emmys, winning seven. It won the Golden Globe for Outstanding Miniseries, AFI’s award for Best Miniseries of the Year, a Best Miniseries award from both the Producers’ Guild of America and the TCA, and was selected for a Peabody Award for “…relying on both history and memory to create a new tribute to those who fought to preserve liberty,” which is more than I can say for Angelina Jolie. Band of Brothers is an entertaining, moving, interesting, accurate, and respectful portrayal of real life heroes that is also a lesson in long-form storytelling that every future miniseries should look to for inspiration in the ways of filmmaking and scripting.
I might review Fury tomorrow, we’ll see. Yeah, I kinda noticed I forgot to review a lot of movies, so this is me compensating. Keanu was hilarious, Spectre suffered from the same problems Apocalypse had, Spotlight was great, Creed was great, I watched 2004’s Collateral and enjoyed it, and The Revenant was entertaining and much better than the overrated Birdman. I might go back and review some of these, but those are the very brief thoughts on those. In mid-July, I will be doing a retrospective look back at the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with my friend while up in Wisconsin for three weeks. And yeah, I switched to WordPress, because… reasons.