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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Atlantis

    Toronto Film Review: 'Atlantis'

    “It took you 10 years to cleanse this region of Soviet propaganda and myths,” says one character to another in “Atlantis,” going on to suggest that the devastation now left behind may never be “cleansed” at all. A strikingly bleak vision of a near future in which Ukraine has won its war with Russia but [...]

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content