You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

When Trumpets Fade

Manning Ron Eldard

Manning Ron Eldard

Sanderson Zak Orth

Chamberlain Frank Whaley

Sgt. Talbot Dylan Bruno

Capt. Pritchett Martin Donovan

Lt. Lukas Timothy Olyphant

Despin Dan Futterman

Lt. Colonel Dwight Yoakam

With: Devon Gummersall, Steven Petrarca, Jeffrey Donovan, Bobby Cannavale, Frank Kobe, Andras Stohl, Matthew Ruston Cooney.

Impressively mounted WWII drama offers masterful combat footage but is undermined by a hackneyed, anachronistic script. June 27 slot on HBO should attract an older audience, although over-50s may be put off by ultraviolence and tin-eared dialogue. “When Trumpets Fade” stands no chance of seeing theatrical light of day, although Tom Burstyn’s complex lensing certainly merits a bigscreen look-see.

Plot centers on one Private Manning (a hauntingly effective Ron Eldard), whom we first meet hurtling through the Hurtgen Forest, where the Allies are making an autumn 1944 push in Germany. He’s carrying a wounded comrade, who soon dies, leaving Manning the only survivor of his embattled platoon. He eventually finds his company, where an impressed officer (Martin Donovan) promotes him to sergeant on the spot, much to the chagrin of square-jawed Sgt. Talbot (Dylan Bruno), who’s convinced that the soldier survived only because of extreme cowardice.

Manning himself is bucking for a Section 8, but is instead given a squad of raw recruits, including the lumpish Sanderson (Zak Orth), who promptly gets lost in the woods.

Nonetheless, he’s obliged to shape up these bumblers for a big push, with Yanks poised to take a well-defended bridge into Deutschland. When that happens, all hell breaks loose, and the new sergeant’s squad is tested on every level.

In fact, Manning is promoted another notch when a visiting colonel (Dwight Yoakam) sees what they’ve accomplished. The battle continues, with dire consequences, and the pic closes with a title card explaining that the Hurtgen conflict offered little reward for the amount of suffering involved.

The same can be said of “Trumpets,” which takes combat realism to sickening new heights, right down to flying body parts sizzling in the mud, but doesn’t have anything new to say about its much-mined territory – not least by helmer John Irvin, in his own “Hamburger Hill.”

While it can be argued that the Good War has rarely been rendered in such an unflattering light – with its all-white GIs shouting obscenities and expressing few patriotic sentiments – the effect is seriously undercut by a script that packs anachronisms into almost every exchange of dialogue.

The chatter in this “sorry-ass platoon” is peppered with ’90s phrases like “You can do this,” “The lieutenant’s lost it” and “Get your shit together” – which, coming from an officer in 1944, would send a soldier running to the latrine with a shovel. Even the body language has a slouchingly modern look to it, with only Yoakam (a country singer in his spare time) faultlessly reflecting the tenor of the times.

These problems, though serious in a project claiming verisimilitude, would pale if the story were strong enough. But W.W. Vought’s script is structurally questionable, with too much attention paid to the sergeant-on-sergeant squabble – as if there isn’t enough conflict here, in the middle of a war.

And the formal device of ending the tale the way it began, with a damaged soldier (now Manning) being carried through the trees, is too on-the-nose to be effective.

Looking deeper, you have to wonder why the pic objects so strenuously to the concept of bravery and then spends so much time defining it.

When Trumpets Fade


Production: An HBO NYC presentation of a Citadel Entertainment/John Kemeny production, in association with Hofflund/Polone. Produced by Kemeny. Executive producers, David Ginsburg, Gavin Polone, Judy Hofflund. Directed by John Irvin. Screenplay, W.W. Vought.

Crew: Camera (color), Thomas Burstyn; editor, Ian Crafford; music, Geoffrey Burgon; production designer, Laszlo Rajk; art director, Zsuzsa Borvendeg; set decorator, Istvan Balogh; costume designer, Gyorgy Hommonay; sound, Brian Simmons; assistant director, Michelangelo Csaba Bolla; casting, Mindy Marin. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 10, 1998. Running time: 93 MIN.

More Film

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Film News Roundup: AMC, Regal to Leave 'Roma' Out of Best Picture Showcases

    In today’s film news roundup, “Roma” will not be in the best picture showcases at AMC and Regal, “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” gets a release and SAG-AFTRA’s David White has a new appointment. ‘ROMA’ SPURNED AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas are leaving Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” out of their upcoming annual showings of the contenders for [...]

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

  • Paul DavidsonVariety Big Data Summit Presented

    Listen: The Orchard's Paul Davidson on Surviving Sundance Bidding Wars

    Hollywood heads to Park City, Utah this week in the hopes of finding the next big Sundance Film Festival breakout. Paul Davidson, executive vice president of film and television at The Orchard, plans to be in the thick of it. In today’s edition of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast, Davidson opens up about The Orchard’s strategy [...]

  • Young Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie:

    James Gandolfini's Son Michael Gandolfini Cast as Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie

    Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, will play the young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the  prequel movie to the television series “The Sopranos.” “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini said. “I’m thrilled that I am [...]

  • Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

    The Message of the Oscar Nominations: You'd Better Have a Social Message

    Each year at the Left Coast crack of dawn, when the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s generally at least one major nomination many pundits were predicting that fails to materialize. When that happens, entertainment media tends to rise up as one and say the s-word: snub. In truth, it’s not usually a snub; it’s just [...]

  • Elton John and Mark Ronson

    Elton John to 'Shallow' Songwriter Mark Ronson: 'You're Going to Win the Oscar'

    Elton John is willing to bet that Mark Ronson will win the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.” The nominations were announced this morning. The legendary performer spoke to Ronson on the latest episode of his radio show “Elton John’s Rocket Hour” on Apple Music’s Beats 1.  “You’re having a [...]

  • Olivia Colman Colin Firth Helen Mirren

    Playing a British Monarch Is a Step on the Road to Oscar Glory - Again

    “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote of Britain’s care-burdened monarchs. Try telling that to the Academy. Once again, playing British royalty has proved to be a tried-and-true route to Oscar glory, with Olivia Colman as the latest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for portraying an occupant of the British [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content