×

Memorial Day

An earnest and involving tribute to two generations of U.S. military personnel, "Memorial Day" will work best in ancillary platforms where the stateliness of its pacing can be alleviated by judicious pressings of the pause button.

With:
With: Jonathan Bennett, John Cromwell, Jackson Bond, James Cromwell, Emily Fradenburgh.

An earnest and involving tribute to two generations of U.S. military personnel, “Memorial Day” will work best in ancillary platforms where the stateliness of its pacing can be alleviated by judicious pressings of the pause button, or the occasional break for commercials. Pic is set for a handful of theatrical dates — during, appropriately enough, the Memorial Day holiday weekend — before a May 29 homevideo release.

Structured by scripter Marc Conklin more or less as a series of time-tripping flashbacks, the indie drama smoothly zigzags among three different periods. While recovering from wounds in a military hospital circa 2005, Sgt. Kyle Vogel (Jonathan Bennett) recalls a fateful Memorial Day in 1993, when his gruff but loving grandfather (James Cromwell) spent a long afternoon reluctantly regaling young Kyle (Jackson Bond) with stories of his WWII service. The most traumatic of these experiences are dramatized with John Cromwell (James’ son) appearing as Lt. Bud Vogel, as natural-born leader who struggles, with mixed success, to protect his men, and remain true to his moral code, even in the heat of combat.

Popular on Variety

Periodically, the narrative hops back to the Iraq War period, as the hospitalized Sgt. Vogel does his own bit of self-unburdening while telling a sympathetic doctor (Emily Fradenburgh) about his grandfather, the old man’s war stories, and the sergeant’s own bloody experiences in a war where the enemy arguably is more difficult to identify and fight.

Director Sam Fischer deserves credit for keeping the storyline clear and the timeframes untangled, and for devising aptly different visual styles to differentiate between the cleanly staged action of the WWII battle scenes and the more frenetic and confusing Iraq War episodes. Whether deliberately or otherwise, Fischer and lenser Bo Hakala give a WWII encounter in 1944 Belgium a wintery look that vividly evokes William A. Wellman’s 1949 classic “Battleground.”

Performances range from adequate to inspired, with James Cromwell claiming the pic’s top acting honors as the aged Bud Vogel, an upright fellow who’s given to forgetfulness in his dotage — but who dredges up painful recollections, apparently through sheer force of will, to preserve the memories of comrades he lost and, perhaps more important, inspire his attentive grandson.

“Memorial Day” builds to what seems like a satisfying emotional climax a good 20 minutes before it actually ends, which has the rather unfortunate effect of making everything that follows feel slightly anticlimactic. On other hand, the pic introduces some provocative ambiguity in its final section by hinting that Sgt. Vogel may forever harbor at least some regret for taking his grandfather’s lessons to heart.

To its credit, the pic displays equal respect to both WWII and Iraq War vets. Still, some auds may question the conspicuous absence of any reference to military service by Kyle’s largely unseen father, who presumably would have been of age to serve in Vietnam.

Despite some occasionally clunky dialogue, “Memorial Day” registers as a solidly crafted indie drama that might become an annual staple on a cable TV network or two. Production values are sharp, while various Minnesota locales double for European and Iraq settings with an impressive degree of persuasiveness.

Memorial Day

Production: An Image Entertainment release of a 7th Sense Films production. Produced by Craig Christiansen. Executive producers, Jeff Traxler, Sam Fischer, Kyle O'Malley. Directed by Sam Fischer. Screenplay, Marc Conklin, from a story by Jeff Traxler, Kyle O'Malley, Conklin.

Crew: Camera (color), Bo Hakala; editor, Bill Rammer; music, Paul Hartwig; production designer, Mark Wojahn; art director, Lindsey Koens; sound, Matthew Freed; stunt coordinator, Jason Hilton; associate producers, Cleave Frink, Peter Etzweller; casting, Antonette Trussoni. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, May 24, 2012. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: With: Jonathan Bennett, John Cromwell, Jackson Bond, James Cromwell, Emily Fradenburgh.

More Film

  • Miss Juneteenth review

    'Miss Juneteenth': Film Review

    “Miss Juneteenth” richly captures the slow pace of ebbing small-town Texas life, even if you might wish there were a bit more narrative momentum to pick up the slack in writer-director Channing Godfrey People’s first feature. She’s got a very relatable heroine in Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise, an erstwhile local beauty queen whose crown proved the [...]

  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': Film Review

    The basic plot of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is easy enough to describe. A 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) winds up pregnant in a small Pennsylvania town. Prevented from seeking an abortion by the state’s parental consent laws, she takes off for New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where what they’d [...]

  • Kathy Valentine, Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin,

    The Go-Go's on Sundance Doc: Neither 'America's Sweethearts' Nor 'Drug-Crazed Demons'

    Some people might come to a Go-Go’s documentary wanting a purely fun, bubbly experience, based on the effervescence the group projected at its breakthrough peak in the early ’80s. Others might want a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll tell-all, if they’re aware of the tensions and bad habits that led the all-female band to [...]

  • 'The Dissident' Review: Powerful Look at

    'The Dissident': Film Review

    It’s become common, if not cliché, for a critic reviewing a documentary about a turbulent real-world event to write something like, “It exerts the power of a true-life thriller!” Well, make no mistake: “The Dissident” does. Directed by Bryan Fogel, who in 2017 made the Oscar-winning “Icarus” (about the Russian doping of Olympic athletes), the [...]

  • Cathy Yan, Chris Messina, Mary Elizabeth

    Margot Robbie, 'Birds of Prey' Co-Stars Justify the Movie’s R-Rating, Violence and Cussing

    Following the success of “Joker” last year, DC Films is continuing its gritty streak with “Birds of Prey,” a slam-bang adventure about Harley Quinn. Though DC Film’s 2016 tentpole “Suicide Squad” took a critical bashing at the time, filmgoers quickly took a liking to Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn. “Birds of Prey” gives the [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) has

    Film News Roundup: 'The Irishman,' 'Marriage Story' Added to Criterion Collection

    In today’s film news roundup, four Netflix titles have been added to the Criterion Collection, Slamdance and ArcLight are partnering, Steven Grayhm is starring in and directing a paranormal drama, and The Mammoth Film Festival sets its lineup. CRITERION COLLECTION Four Netflix titles will be released on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection — Martin Scorsese’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content