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A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 5, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: This low-budget wartime picture was filmed in Utah (which substituted for the Ardennes Forest) and though it has been largely forgotten after 28 years, it remains a fine effort in the World War II genre and is well worth a look. Now it has been resurrected by the Shout! Factory for a special edition Blu-ray, which also marks the first video release in widescreen. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 15, 1992.

"A Midnight Clear" has special local interest as it was filmed in 1991 in the snow-covered mountains near Park City (with the old Park City High School, built in 1905, doubling for interiors as a 17th-century chateau).

In some ways this is a throwback to another era. We don't often get big-screen movies about World War II anymore. But the sensibilities are certainly modern and its anti-war message clear, if a bit obvious.

     

Ethan Hawke, left, Kevin Dillon, 'A Midnight Clear' (1992)

The ensemble drama is narrated by the nominal lead character, Will Knott (Ethan Hawke), focusing on a small infantry squad in the Ardennes Forest around Christmas time. They are assigned to occupy a deserted French chateau and watch for enemy activity.

The activity they encounter is quite unexpected, however, as a group of German soldiers contacts them, apparently offering to surrender. But there is a condition — they want it to appear they've been taken in a fight, so they stage a mock battle. But will it remain so, or is it some sort of perverse trap?

As written and directed by actor Keith Gordon (adapting the novel by William Wharton), the film is spare and sensitive but mostly eschews sentimentality.

There are some stark and memorable images here, as when the simple act of taking a bath becomes a ritual, and a moment when the young soldiers come upon a pair of frozen bodies, enemies who appear to be doing a death dance.

     

There's also a comic snowball fight and a stirring moment when the German soldiers put up a makeshift Christmas tree and begin caroling, as the American GIs eventually join in.

The performances are uniformly good by a number of familiar young actors and the atmosphere is exceptional, conveying the chilling essence of the unknown that soldiers in combat face, as well as the climactic cold in this case.

"A Midnight Clear" is rated R for violence, gore and profanity, as well as a flashback sex scene and some nudity.