A Midnight Clear
From the opening shots of winter starkness filled with raw, powerful beauty, it's evident that A Midnight Clear (1991) is a film with a style all its own. Directed and adapted for the screen by Keith Gordon from a novel by William Wharton, this World War II film stars Ethan Hawke, Peter Berg, Gary Sinise, Kevin Dillon, and Arye Gross as the remaining members of an American intelligence and reconnaissance squad operating in the French countryside at the end of 1944. The platoon chosen for their high IQs is dispatched by their resident monomaniacal major (John McGinley) to take possession of an abandoned estate in order to learn the whereabouts of a missing American troop and the Germans in the area. We learn in a voice-over by Hawke that his small group of bright, sensitive men who possess little desire to be soldiers and far more interest in the wonder of the world and the intricate workings of the human mind are all close to cracking. Hawke finds himself "noticing how beautiful the world is just as I might be leaving it." When German soldiers are detected on the perimeter of the property, the Americans are baffled by the Nazis' bizarre behavior, but eventually they come to understand that this ragtag group of old and very young German soldiers has just returned from the devastation of the Russian front. They wish to surrender because they believe the war is almost over and they don't want to get killed during the last days of the conflict. The caveat for the Germans is that they need it to appear that they put up a fight before surrendering otherwise, they will be branded as cowards and their families will suffer severe consequences. After sharing a strange but poignant Christmas celebration, the groups reach a precarious understanding by agreeing to stage a mock skirmish and surrender the following day. But when their pretend battle goes awry, the senseless, brutal reality of war becomes all too obvious. A Midnight Clear is a deeply moving film with outstanding performances by its cast of young up-and-coming stars particularly Hawke, whose character is the soul of the story. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is the spectacular cinematography by Tom Richmond, full of warm reds and browns contrasted against the clarity and whiteness of bright sunlight on snow, which gives the picture an added dimension of emotional profundity. The thoughtful story is told in reverential tones with a softness that is nearly heartbreaking, particularly for a war film. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of A Midnight Clear presents the film in an open-matte, full-frame transfer (1.33:1) rather than the original widescreen, with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Special features include an audio commentary track with Gordon and Hawke, deleted scenes with director's commentary, and theatrical trailers. Keep-case.