When Trumpets Fade

It's late fall of 1944, and soldier Ron Eldard is the only survivor of his unit after a week of bloody fighting along the German border in the Hurtgen forest. Eldard, a rookie only a week ago, is now both an experienced soldier and an admitted coward, and all he wants is to be declared mentally unfit and sent home. Unfortunately, his commanding officer thinks Eldard's survival instinct makes him a perfect leader of fresh troops and promotes him to lead an entire unit. When Trumpets Fade is a pretty good study in the military mentality and how it relates to heroism; director John Irvin, who also directed Hamburger Hill and The Dogs Of War, shows us the obligatory flying limbs and shattered bodies, but goes beyond the standard men-as-meat viewpoint with some good, psychologically tight scenes of untested soldiers being thrown headfirst into the war. Unfortunately, it's seldom better than pretty good: Eldard does a competent job of portraying a dutiful coward, there are decent scenes of small-unit actions, and the attrition is appropriately terrifying. But it doesn't match up in emotional depth or pure visual scope to Saving Private Ryan or The Big Red One. Still, how many war movies do? If you've seen those classics, and still want more WWII angst and action, When Trumpets Fade should take precedent over, say, Flying Leathernecks any day.

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