This made-for-HBO feature aims to document a forgotten chapter in the history of WWII, the protracted fight for a forest straddling the border between Belgium and Germany. Unfortunately, there's not much here to distinguish WHEN TRUMPETS FADE from most other WWII flicks--particularly in a
year that saw the release of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE THIN RED LINE.
November, 1944. By virtue of his having survived a full week of hellish battle in the Hurtgen forest--during which the rest of his company were killed--Private David Manning (Ron Eldard) is promoted to sergeant, despite rumors of cowardice and his own request for a dismissal. Manning is ordered to
lead a group of very green replacement soldiers to the front line, where they scout enemy positions. At one point, the soldiers' inexperience leads to one man, Sanderson (Zack Orth), becoming separated from the company and barely escaping detection by a German patrol. The men are included in the
attempt to take a bridge guarded by German heavy artillery, a loss that results in heavy American casualties.
Desperate for a break, Manning's commanding officer, Captain Pritchett (Martin Donovan), agrees to grant Manning his dismissal if he'll lead his men in a longshot attempt to burn out the German artillery with flamethrowers. Manning takes his men behind lines and knocks out the big guns, losing
three men in the process. However, Pritchett is wounded in the battle and is relieved before Manning can return, negating the deal for a dismissal; furthermore, Manning is again promoted, this time to lieutenant. When a pair of German tanks roll in to replace the artillery, Manning elects to lead
a small group of soldiers in a night attack to take them out. His men manage to take out the tanks, but only one man returns--Sanderson, the once-green soldier who got lost on patrol. Before the Battle of Hurtgen Forest ends, 24,000 soldiers will die.
It can be said that WHEN TRUMPETS FADE's intentions are good: telling the story of the battle for Hurtgen forest, a long and bloody fight that came between the liberation of France and the Battle of the Bulge. The implication, of course, is that this battle was one worth remembering. However,
neither writer W.W. Vought nor director John Irvin (HAMBURGER HILL, CITY OF INDUSTRY) attempt to explain why this particular battle was strategically pivotal--or even the least bit important--to the course of the war in Europe. To the viewer, it just looks like another prolonged combat, complete
with scared recruits, dirt-flinging land mines, and the bloody stumps of soldiers' blown-off limbs (a visual that has become a staple of the 1990s war movie).
Star Ron Eldard doesn't help matters much: as a frightened soldier whose knack for self-preservation is mistaken for battle smarts, he is offered a role with some emotional range to it; it's too bad he doesn't choose to explore that range. Perhaps hoping to convey shell shock, Eldard wears a
stone-faced expression throughout--except for the moments in which he's shouting at the replacement soldiers. Overall, Eldard's overly stoic performance is as forgettable as the battle itself--after all, if the main character doesn't seem to care about the events, why should we? (Extreme violence,profanity.)
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- Released: 1998
- Rating: R
- Review: This made-for-HBO feature aims to document a forgotten chapter in the history of WWII, the protracted fight for a forest straddling the border between Belgium and Germany. Unfortunately, there's not much here to distinguish WHEN TRUMPETS FADE from most oth… (more)