By Mark Bell | May 27, 2011

Filmmaker Chris Grega needs to be commended for even attempting to make this film; after Saving Private Ryan, the bar on World War II films was set so high, it’s hard to imagine anything even daring to enter the conversation. To Grega and company’s credit, while they never achieve quite so lofty a resting spot, they do make a perfect complement film. If Saving Private Ryan was all Greek tragedy and drama, Rhineland is what every other soldier during the war was battling with on a daily basis afterward.

The film’s premise is simple: a small group of soldiers, with no infantry training, are assigned to work with a company in the heart of the Rhineland in the later stages of the Second World War. Despite having no training to do such, the soldiers are assigned to a mine detail, both placing and detecting, as the forces move forward. Of course, that’s only the beginning. Like an independent film set where everyone winds up doing a little bit of everything, these unprepared soldiers gets a crash course in infantry and combat, as their numbers dwindle with each passing day.

The film’s dramatic tension comes from three main characters, Mayer (Derek Simmons), the fearful soldier dropped into a world out of his league, Sgt. Bowen (Paul Wendell), his verbally abusive, cynical superior and Lt. Westman (R. Travis Estes), a man on the mental brink after too many days of service and too many missions that amount to essentially dropping replacement soldiers into a meat grinder. While Mayer is definitely the proxy for the audience, it’s not too hard to relate to the other two men.

This film is epic, and while a certain battle sequence definitely borrows heavily from the “in the trenches and on the beach” feel that opened Saving Private Ryan, it’s nature is epic and brutal in an entirely different fashion. In Spielberg’s film, that opening battle felt like a grand stage; in Rhineland, when the company has to take a bunker and push the enemy back, it’s brutal in its matter-of-fact delivery. There isn’t time for dramatics and slow-motion; these bastards need to kill or be kill, and as they push forward, instead of a nice and tidy “kill all the enemies and rest,” they have to chase the survivors down and finish the job. It’s rough and tumble grit.

My main criticism is a technical one, in that the film is so dirty and gritty, that its audio feels almost too clean. I don’t know how to properly express this criticism, but do you know when you’re watching a movie, and you really notice that a line is ADR’ed? I got that quite a bit. That audio “otherness” can sometimes make the dialogue feel separate from the acting performance, and I can see how some could criticize the acting as poor in reaction. For me, the acting was fine, it just felt, at times, separate. But hey, I understand the want and need to have your characters understood when they talk.

While the productions and subject matter are different, this film really evoked memories of seeing the Gettysburg miniseries for the first time, and how, while that film did delve into the drama a bit much (and those beards), it also delivered the battles with a simple realism that has stuck with me to this day. Rhineland has that quality to it, and, again, kudos to Grega and crew for pulling it off.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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