Like all the best war movies, A MIDNIGHT CLEAR looks at its subject on a human scale, bringing home the tragedy of armed conflict by showing its effects on a small group of individuals. Made with intelligence and wit, the film combines moments of lyrical beauty with a bitterly ironic
sense of the absurdity of war. Adapted from William Wharton's autobiographical novel by actor-turned-director Keith Gordon (THE CHOCOLATE WAR), A MIDNIGHT CLEAR follows the misadventures of an infantry intelligence patrol somewhere in the Ardennes forest in 1944. Selected for reconnaissance work
because of their high I.Q. ratings ("I guess if we're intelligent, we must be good at intelligence"), the group includes Will Knott (Ethan Hawke), a newly promoted sergeant who just can't get around to sewing on his stripes; "Mother" Wilkins (Gary Sinise), named for his attempts to enforce
neatness among the squad members; "Father" Mundy (Frank Whaley), a former seminarian; and Mel Avakian (Kevin Dillon), the group's most--perhaps only--competent soldier. Shortly before Christmas, the group is sent by their sadistic commanding officer to commandeer an abandoned house and use it as a
lookout to report on enemy troop movements. They do encounter some Germans, but of the kind that shatter their preconceptions about the "enemy." These Germans shout goodnight messages to their American counterparts, attack them with snowballs rather than bullets, and end up exchanging gifts with
them around a makeshift Christmas tree. When these peaceful overtures end in bloodshed the effect is doubly moving, since we have come to know those on both sides as real people.
Though it hits an occasional false note, A MIDNIGHT CLEAR is well written and sensitively directed. The pristine, snowbound setting gives the film a still, other-worldly quality, and makes for some arresting images, particularly that of a German and an American corpse frozen in a posthumous
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