Pensive low-budget war film Alone We Fight delivers director Justin Lee’s version of the World War II battle of Hürtgen Forest.
Hürtgen was a predecessor to The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest and though less well known was brutal and extremely costly to the Allied forces. An estimated 55,000 Allies were killed or wounded including both combat and non-combat losses. German casualties were around 28,000. The battle was one of the worst Allied defeats of the war.
The Germans fiercely defended Hürtgen because it was a staging area for the planned offensive in the Ardennes. The Allies failed to capture the region and the Germans then successfully held it until they launched their Ardennes attack, ending the Hürtgen battle. American writers Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger were both at Hürtgen. Justin Lee’s grandfather also fought in the war and his stories inspired Lee to make this film.
Sergeant Falcone (Aiden Bristow) and his squad are captured and two of them escape execution by German soldiers at the outset of the film. They fight their way free and go to an aid station near the front.
Corbin Bernsen is airdropped in for a cameo as a disheveled officer, Col. Armstrong, to give a downbeat anti-St. Crispin’s-Day-speech summarizing how much this sucks, how screwed we are, and how this battle is hopeless (he is right). Falcone volunteers himself and his men for a suicide mission to buy some time for the aid station to evacuate and to slow the German advance.
“…his squad are captured and two of them escape execution by German soldiers…“
It’s clear that Lee was going for a ground-level intimate Thin Red Line vibe by sharing the emotional experience of war reflected in personal relationships and ruminations on what it is to witness such horrors. However, he falls far short of the same approach achieved in Terrence Malick’s film. I respect what Lee was trying to do and I wanted to like the film for that reason, but my efforts were as doomed as the Allies in the forest. This movie is just dull.
The critical relationships between the characters are stiff and dispassionate. Everyone seems bored. War veterans often develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but these men (and women) seem to not have waited for the war to end to give in to a dissociated thousand-yard stare.
Firefights are slow and quiet. Lee pulls back the sound of the guns, the screaming, and the explosions at the height of the action to simulate overwhelming chaos and confusion. Used in the right way, a quiet moment in a maelstrom can create some thoughtful distance, but this film lacks the shock and awe that makes the silence effective as a contrast. It’s all silent.
Part of the problem may be the stream of WWII films produced since the war ended seven decades ago. Viewers could be reaching saturation. Must every epic battle be immortalized on film? There may be room for more movies about that war, but only with a fresh perspective that adds to the conversation.
The battle of Hürtgen Forest forest was a breathtaking defeat for Allied forces. The subsequent Battle of the Bulge went in the books as a win and was a decisive turning point toward Allied victory in the war. Between the two, it’s easy to see why history venerates the latter and largely ignores the former.
Alone We Fight is sluggish and muted, offers no compelling characters and the story drags on to no particular conclusion.
Alone We Fight (2018) Written and directed by Justin Lee. Starring Corbin Bernsen, Aidan Bristow, Kate Conway.
6 out of 10