War Movies for Beginners: 'The Liberator'
This entry was posted on November 21, 2020.
Like many in the hobby, I like to have 'something on in the background' whilst I'm modelling. Less so, maybe, when I'm painting, but certainly whilst I'm assembling figures or constructing buildings. Tonally, a good documentary or war film always lends itslef very well to the moment, so I was very excited to see a new offering from Netflix to indulge in: The Liberator.
Directed by Greg Jonkajtys, this four-part miniseries is based on the book The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau by Andy Kershaw, and was released on Armistice Day/Veterans' Day this year.
Its unique selling point is undoubtedly its rather stylish deployment of 'Trioscope' technology to blend live-action acting with CGI backgrounds to produce a quasi-realistic graphic-novel-style effect.
I've not read Kershaw's book - based on the true story of the relatively integrated US 157th Infantry Regiment - but the miniseries focuses on the experiences of one of its leading officers, Felix L. Sparks, as they fight up from the "soft underbelly"(!) of Europe through France and the Bulge to liberate Dachau Concentration Camp, suffering horrendous losses and exhibiting astonishing bravery.
I have to say, I really quite enjoyed the Trioscope aesthetic. It's met with a lukewarm reception, and I can see why some viewers may have interpreted it as some sort of a cost-cutting measure, but I found it both relaxing and fairly charming - fascinating too - like watching a moving version of a Commando comic (an absolute staple of my childhood) and with the added nostalgic feel of older 'Rotoscoped' animations.
Sadly though, that's about as far as my real enjoyment of The Liberator went.
What viewers get is a genuinely interesting story of hardship, heroism and camaraderie told through a soupy layer of schmaltz and cliches. Almost every classic war genre cliche or trope is wheeled out in this dramatisation, and it's a real shame: the viewer can suspend disbelief, of course, but when the lines of dialogue are so hackneyed that half of them can be guessed at before they're spoken, any sense of tension or suspense pretty much just dissipates.
But that's okay, right? - no-one really minds the odd cliche in a war movie, right? After all, the Commando books of my childhood were monstrously predictable; I'd go so far as to say that the hundreds of them that were published seemed to just keep recycling about ten different plots... and that's okay. Right? Of course it is - that's why we love them; it's why we keep reading and watching these stories over and over.
The trouble with The Liberator, though, is that the acting isn't very good either. None of the actors does a bad job... it's just that very few of them really do much of a good job (Martin Sensmeier as Coldfoot being a notable exception, with a stand-out performance). Their handling of weapons seems unfamiliar, their delivery of tired dialogue frequently falls flat, and they often seem to portray the emotional breadth of a toothpick. It's a pity, and the net result of what must come down to lacklustre direction is that their characters end up being even more two-dimensional than those drawn in the old Commando books.
It feels rushed, it feels cheap, and although following the exploits of this brave (and evidently fairly forward-thinking) unit was genuinely engaging, the storytelling, sadly, was not.
...all of which brings me to my title. Why 'War Movies for Beginners'? - well, the young viewer new to the genre is maybe the ideal audience for The Liberator: the depictions of violence - being 'animated' - are not too shocking graphic; the narrative has a pleasing arc with a good, pat sense of closure, and they won't have been spoiled by having enjoyed too many of the great war films and miniseries out there!
And vitally, the viewer new to the genre might not be able to predict every line.