Running Time: 270 Mins
As destructive as the Western Front was in WW2 and as good as Band of Brothers (2001) was, the Eastern Front was where the men were sorted from the boys. The Eastern Front was where WW2 was won and lost, anyone who says otherwise hasn’t got a clue what they’re talking about. It is where 80% of the European Axis forces squared off against roughly 500 (!) Soviet divisions. For comparison, the coalition invasion force that invaded Iraq ten years ago was a mere three divisions. The Eastern Front then was a four year orgy of unprecedented violence. For that reason a ‘Band of Brothers’ within that setting has always been in high demand. This mini series, yet to be aired in English-speaking countries, has been billed as the ‘German Band of Brothers’. That’s a big claim, is it true? Almost… probably the best we can hope for.
The series is set in 1941-45 follows the impact that Operation Barbarossa ultimately has on a group of five young German friends. One is a nurse, the war is seen through her eyes at a field hospital, which looks like something from a Saw movie, 24/7. One a Jewish refugee who joins the Polish Resistance. The third is a singer, her story is one of vanity and denial of the war. The other two, who are easily the best written and acted characters, are brothers who are enlisted in the Wehrmacht. Through their eyes we see the actual hell of the front. When I originally read the premise for this, alarm bells sounded. It sounded like a soap opera masquerading as a war epic, as is increasingly the case these days. But it isn’t. In its 270 minutes it doesn’t really have time for romance, for example. The other three characters are (mostly) there to facilitate the story of the two brothers. That’s how it should have been. It’s a serious production that shows madness and a surreal window of history.
Before talking about the strongest part of this mini series, there are glaring faults in it that need to be mentioned. Faults which mean this feature will get an 8/10 instead of a 9/10. The main problem is the insistence on having the characters randomly encounter each other throughout the war, regardless of how improbable. A singer on tour for troop morale just happens to appear at the field hospital where her best friend is stationed, where a third friend (one of the brothers) so happens to also turn up? At the same time on the same day? This kind of thing happens throughout, often at the expense of logic (re: plotholes). It stretches credibility. Elsewhere, the otherwise excellent pacing also hits the breaks in the final 45 minutes. As the war closes, things slow down, they become slightly labored and stray into melodrama territory.
The strongest thing about this series then, the thing that makes it a success, is the story of the two brothers and the Eastern Front as depicted through their eyes. Particularly the younger brother, easily the most well written part with raw and thorough character development. He joins as an unwilling recruit, afraid and disillusioned with National Socialism. The war though turns him into a man, then ultimately a man to whom killin’ is as easy as breathin’. There is a scene where he rips through an entire street full of Soviets and this really is exceptional television. Which brings us to the last positive: scenes of war. They’re remarkable and easily rival those seen in Band of Brothers. Here, we harken back to a time when a camera operator held the damned thing steady, where a talented director knew what he wanted and succeeded in getting it. The action is big budget, thrilling, cold and brutal. If a little sparse.
Generation War is occasionally sad and sometimes powerful, but consistently holds the attention. It’s inferior to Band of Brothers, but it’s superior to The Pacific. War junkies… seek it out.
REVIEW SCORE: 8/10