Saturday, March 2, 2019

Movie Reviews: Overlord

directed by Julius Avery
By WW2 Germany had one of the most scientifically advanced military forces in Europe and therefore the world. It is a fortunate irony that the Nazi anti-Semitism caused many European physicists, Jewish and non-Jewish, to flee to the United States, thus severely retarding German nuclear weapon research and development.

However, even without Jewish scientific assistance, German military scientists, doctors and technicians produced advanced deadly weapons such as the assault rifle, a speedier machine gun, thermobaric bombs, jet aircraft, Pervitin, and the first ICBM's. There were rumors of even more outrageous weapons and plans, such as a death ray mirror that would use the Sun's energy to incinerate cities, anti-gravity and time travel devices, and stealth fighters. Some of these were discussed in the fiction book Swastika by Michael Slade.  Overlord imagines that American paratroopers, tasked to destroy a German radio tower on the eve of D-Day, discover a secret sinister Nazi military program.

Overlord, much like Tarantino's WW2 film Inglorious Basterds, is unashamedly anachronistic. The hero is a Black paratrooper serving in an integrated unit.  The company first sergeant is also a Black man. In real life, all US military branches were officially racially segregated during the war. Although some segregation broke down during combat, there weren't any units that were by design integrated. 

Normal US military protocol was to move heaven and earth so that no Black NCO or officer would ever be in a position where they could give orders to a white man or god forbid a white woman. 

The movie ignores this history. Although some of his fellow soldiers distrust the Black protagonist, his race is never an issue. As a company of paratroopers flies over northern France en route to the drop zone their First Sergeant (Bokeem Woodbine) keeps them motivated by profanely reminding them of their duties and asking them to recite their tasks. Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is apprehensive and frankly scared sh**less, along with most of the other soldiers. One soldier who isn't scared is the combat veteran Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), who appears to be suffering from PTSD.  He has the famed thousand yard state. The other soldiers are dismissive of Boyce's abilities for reasons that are both silly and poignant. 
All the planes are shot down. Only Boyce and a handful of soldiers from his squad including Ford successfully make the jump. There are only five men left to complete the mission.

Ford's been in worse situations. Orders are orders. After losing a soldier to a minefield, the team encounters a French woman, Chloe (Mathilde Olivier) who agrees to hide the soldiers in her home where she lives with her younger brother and sick aunt. Boyce translates for the team. He and Chloe seem to like each other's looks. Ford sends two of his soldiers to the rendezvous point to see if anyone else made it. But before bashful Boyce can put the moves on Chloe a SS patrol headed by one Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) arrives. The SS have already murdered some French civilians, apparently just because. The Nazis claim to be looking for the hiding paratroopers but the sadistic SS Captain wants the obvious from Chloe. She can either give it to him "willingly" or she can refuse in which case the Captain will give her to his men, kill her brother and send her aunt back to the church for experiments. 

What a nice guy. Boyce may not be the most aggressive man on God's green earth but he won't stand by and tolerate any atrocity, even if interfering jeopardizes the mission. Ignoring Ford's orders, Boyce reveals himself, attacks and subdues the SS Captain.  
Afterwards, worried that the other soldiers haven't returned, Ford sends Boyce to retrieve them. Boyce infiltrates the radio tower/church. Boyce sees some of what the Nazis have been doing. Boyce now has some decisions to make. This was a fun B-movie that didn't overstay its welcome. 

Unfortunately Adepo looks either constipated or scared most of the time he's onscreen. It's as if he took acting lessons from John Boyega. Asbaek is suitably terrifying as the Big Bad. I don't think the viewer will care about the characters that much. The story is good but the actors are almost superfluous. There are the normal WW2 movie cliches-the loudmouthed street smart Italian, the sensitive artist, the quiet guy, the harda$$ NCO, the brutal veteran soldier who makes hard choices- you know the drill.  This is an action-horror film with equal emphasis on both elements. There is a fair amount of graphic violence. If you can't tolerate that then this is not a movie you ought to watch. For the rest of us this is a movie to watch on a weekend afternoon.
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