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On Sept. 9, 2001, HBO premiered Band of Brothers, exec produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The World War II ensemble series went on to nab 20 Emmy Awards nominations and 7 wins, including outstanding miniseries. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
With the brilliant, realistic and compelling Saving Private Ryan still fresh in the minds of most, a logical question might be: What unique way would the exec producing team of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg find to revisit the combat of World War II without merely repeating what they or others have done before?
The answer comes quickly in Band of Brothers, a 10-hour, $120 million miniseries made in partnership with the BBC and France2 and based on Stephen E. Ambrose’s acclaimed book. Defying war-story convention, the project more closely resembles a journal of discrete events than a drama with story arcs. This isn’t the journal of an individual, though, but the diary of Easy Company, a regiment within the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Men came and went, injured or killed in the fierce fighting, only to be replaced by others who would suffer the same fate.
It is doubtful that any war movie on the large or small screen has captured the varied experiences of ordinary soldiers better than Band of Brothers. Whether it’s the sheer terror of facing an unseen enemy or the momentary joy following a successful mission, the mini eschews the typical movie cliches while revealing and reveling in the humanity within each member of Easy Company. It explains in large measure why this group of regular guys and others like them have come to be called the Greatest Generation.
The pattern of storytelling is different from the outset. Each episode opens with brief comments from some of the surviving, aging veterans of Easy Company. Often, their comments are as profound and revealing as anything to be found in the well-written scripts.
The mini is told mostly in chronological order, but there is no attempt or need to start episodes with a “previously seen on” recapitulation. That’s because, for the most part, every episode is a self-contained exploration of various themes, including leadership, reaction under fire and coping physically and mentally with unimaginable circumstances. On the one hand, the diffusion of each story among dozens of characters makes it harder to identify with any individual. On the other, the broader portrait of a company in transition gives an entirely new, fresh perspective to this war drama.
HBO will premiere the first two hours back to back, then show a new hour each Sunday. The first hour, “Currahee,” features David Schwimmer of Friends as a sadistic commanding officer more eager to discipline the new recruits of Easy Company than train them. Schwimmer gives it his all, but he just doesn’t look the part of the heartless martinet. That aside, there is no shortage of winning performances among the relatively unknown cast members, including Damian Lewis, who plays Lt. Winters, a junior officer who takes on a more prominent role in succeeding episodes. Also worthy of mention are turns by Scott Grimes as Malarkey, Matthew Leitch as Talbert, Ron Livingston as Nixon, Marc Warren as Blithe, Frank John Hughes as Guarnere and, really, others too numerous to mention.
The second hour, “Day of Days,” follows Easy Company into its first combat as members parachute behind enemy lines hours before the D-Day invasion. Writer John Orloff and director Richard Loncraine portray the action with all of its inherent confusion and gruesome carnage.
The mini encompasses the efforts of nine directors (Hanks handled the fifth hour, “Crossroads”) and nine writers. Although individual stylistic differences are readily discernible, there is an overall vision that permeates each episode, providing a unifying force. The work of special effects supervisor Joss Williams and visual effects supervisors Angus Bickerton and Mat Beck is spectacular, as is the haunting, memorable theme music by Michael Kamen. — Barry Garron, originally published Sept. 5, 2001.
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