Keith Gordon’s A Midnight Clear (1992) is an undeniably intriguing investigation into the human survival instinct, focusing upon a group of young soldiers during the Second World War and their desperate attempts to return home unscathed. Set against the French winter of 1944, a group of American Intelligence operatives locate a group of German troops who wish to surrender rather than die fighting. Both groups find themselves isolated, and thus decide to spend Christmas together. However, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, the plan goes awry and blood is tragically spilt.
A Midnight Clear boasts a strong cast that includes Ethan Hawke as central protagonist Sgt. Will Knott, Frank Whaley as Paul ‘Father’ Mundy and Kevin Dillion as Cpl. Mel Avakian. All of these performances powerfully explore the desperate situation many soldiers faced during WWII, with the Gordon’s film loosely based on the novel by William Wharton – the pen name of Albert William du Aime – whose book Birdy was also adapted as a film in 1984.
Remarkably, there is a strong tone of pacifism throughout. On both Allied and German sides, young men were recruited without any political affiliation to the causes that they were fighting for. The portrayal of the relationship between the two warring parties is beautifully depicted in several scenes, including a snowball fight and a touching sequence where the Germans visit the small America squad, greeting them with the carol Stille Nacht.
Unfortunately, Gordon’s war film is decidedly better in its parts than as a whole. One of the most notable issues is in its narrative pacing, which is poor and often fails to capture the audience’s attention. However, it is also worth noting that the script for this film was used to audition parts for Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), and influenced the equally successful Band of Brothers HO TV series. This is perhaps the best way to appreciate and understand A Midnight Clear – as a raw rendition of the ideas explored (arguably more successfully) in Spielberg’s aforementioned latter projects.
Regardless of its relative immaturity and flaws, Gordon’s A Midnight Clear is well worth watching for its intelligent exploration of what it means to fight for one’s country – and more importantly, what the horrors of war did to an entire generation of young men on both sides of the Allies/Axis dichotomy.