To watch World War II movies, one might get the general impression that all battles were fought and won by small units of appropriately ethnic collections of colorful characters who somehow overcome enormous odds imposed by both the enemy and their own superior officers corps, the former for obvious reasons and the latter who treat their infantry like so many disposable pawns in a chess game that never seems to involve getting their own hands unclean any closer than panoramic binocular views. Certainly the grand nature of the conflict necessarily calls for (unless one is prepared to succumb to a voluminous stream of maps, charts, graphs in an assemblage of flashcard information that might be helpful in a dissertation presentation but would prove deadly in a less academic environment) some measure of expository groundwork which places the events in a lucid context- most especially in a film based upon actual events rather than a strict fabrication -in which both the importance of the geographical setting and chronological timing are somewhat essential for reasons of historical clarity, though some films will not only fictionalize the characters but the important incidents involving critical wartime campaigns. (The first is generally expected as a writer’s tool in giving large events a focal point with which the audience might find intimate points of empathy within such a broad canvas, while the latter is almost shamefully unforgivable given the significance of the events depicted- not to mention the real life sacrifices given in such enterprises -especially in unnecessary emasculation of fact such as “Battle of the Bulge” which actually depicts one of the greatest winter campaigns in history being fought in a desert.)
In “The Bridge at Remagen”, screenwriters Richard Yates (yes, that Richard Yates) and William Roberts have a good deal to say about the ugliness and waste of war from both sides of the conflict and though their narrative plays loose with the specifics of the American Army attempt to capture the river crossing at Remagen, the last existing bridge over the Rhine and a key artery for the Allies into the heart of Germany, they have crafted a narrative which flirts dangerously with certain stereotypical character types and story elements to which the genre (and its audience) has become complacently accustomed, yet the film sneakily moves in unexpected directions in which characters revealingly often act against expected behavior, not due to the forced contortions of a writer’s design, but by the logical progression occurring with the violent collision of crisis circumstance and internal character. Certainly an important story, the writers have assembled the usual fictionalization of characters, though have- with a few minor exceptions -used these characters to advance a thematic duality in which similar issues of honor, duty and a surprisingly prominent antiwar sentiment (which is entirely organic to the narrative as opposed to being tacked on for the sake of contemporaneous audience sentiments) are carefully mirrored in the midst of the urgent necessities of behavior brought about by the wholesale slaughter of warfare. The film is pleasingly rich- subtly so – in character development for a film of this kind, using quiet, reactive gestures to the action in revealing interesting layers of humanity under stress, while emphasizing an often uncomfortable mirroring of sentiment from opposing sides that is often capable of blurring empathetic loyalties: if not for the cut of the character’s uniform they might just as well reverse sides.
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