Perhaps when I was scrolling through Netflix’s offerings a few days ago and landed on Ghosts of War (2020), I was actually looking for Company of Heroes (2013). You know what would be nice of Netflix to do, even though it might end up costing them business? Attach reviews of films to their on-screen menus. Though I doubt they would want The Legionnaire’s content, it might expedite the process of cycling through their films and shows. I am sure if you peruse the seemingly endless selections available on any streaming service, you will come to long forgotten titles that nobody has watched since they were still sending DVDs in the mail. Hey, data is not unlimited, despite what cell phones companies will tell you. If some of these things could be deleted, preferably from existence entirely, think of how much more they could do. Then again, they would probably fill it with more crap that might get viewed a little until it ends up in some unvisited corner of their sites, not to be heard from again until we can download entire seasons of content directly into our brains. What a nightmare that would be. I am complaining here because I would like to avoid seeing films like Ghosts of War, or Company of Heroes.
Where to begin with Company of Heroes? I ask that question not because I do not know what to say, but because it seems to be asking itself that after some opening texts that are supposed to provide some historical background for this nonsense. At any rate, it is set late in World War II, on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive on the Western Front. Most soldiers in the American army think the fighting is all but over, despite the patrol we see at the start losing a couple men to a sniper. The German marksman is killed by our main character, also a sharpshooter, named Nate Burrows (Chad Michael Collins). Nate is a replacement soldier, meaning he is a newcomer to a battle-hardened unit and is treated accordingly. Being close to Christmas, his company is tasked with the delivery a load of hams to a forward base. Along the way, they encounter a German tank column, and for some reason decide to stand and fight despite being woefully under-gunned. In the middle of their engagement, a stray Russian soldier (who is apparently ethnically Polish (which does not make a ton of sense) named Ivan Puzharski (Dimitri Diatchenko) comes across the American troops and joins up with them. Interspersed with the Americans caught out in the middle of nowhere are scenes of ruined German towns where secret weapons are being tested, ones that Hitler think will turn the tide of the war back in his favor. They are working on a nuclear bomb, and it is being developed by Dr. Luca Gruenewald (Jürgen Prochnow). Our intrepid unit comes across the ruins of a village where a botched test took place. They find one survivor, who happens to be an agent of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and he has vital information that needs to be delivered to the right people. He hands it to Nate’s sergeant, Matherson (Sam Spruell), and now what was once supposed to be a relatively easy delivery run is now a race to thwart the Nazi’s plan to wipe out American cities with atomic weapons. In order to accomplish this, they must hand off the information to another OSS operative at a nearby train station, who is then to take it on to Stuttgart, a city deeper in Germany. They arrive at the designated location, only to find their contact being murdered by the ostensible villain in this mess, Bemier (Richard Sammel), the main Nazi officer behind the bomb’s creation. With their contact gone, they take it upon themselves to carry on the information to Stuttgart. To do so, they sneak aboard a train full of allied prisoners, and they are in turn joined by a British flight officer named Brent Willoughby (Vinnie Jones) because . . . why not? It is Nate, though, that is tasked with making contact with the mysterious Kestrel (Melia Kreiling). She turns out to be Dr. Gruenewald’s daughter, and together they are seeking to defect to the United States and take their findings on atomic weapons with them. Their plan is almost derailed, not quite by Bemier and his troops, who are laughably easy to kill, but by Ivan, who wants to take Dr. Gruenewald and his knowledge back to the Soviet Union. In the end, they agree to give the plans to Ivan, but take Dr. Gruenewald and his daughter with them. Unfortunately, in their escape attempt, the last of the company is killed, leaving Nate as the sole survivor. He is not without his wounds, though, and when he comes to in the hospital he is greeted by Lieutenant Joe Conti (Neal McDonough). The officer tells the private that while his country is thankful for his heroics, he can tell nobody about them. But at least he gets Kestrel?
I ended that with a question mark because Company of Heroes offers no closure to that romantic subplot. Earlier, before their attempt to rescue Dr. Gruenewald, they share an intimate moment where she allows him to see her undressed before she takes a bath. It is a completely unnecessary moment. I say that not just as a Catholic, or as a person who would like to see less objectification of women in film, but as a film critic who saw nothing solid come out of this exchange in the end. Brief nudity aside, the biggest problem with the film is its lack of direction. Sure, I could blather on (as I do anyway) about the historically inaccurate weaponry, the absurdity of the OSS having safe houses in Germany during the war, or the premise of preventing Germany from having an atomic bomb. Yes, Germany was working on such a weapon, but the United States was, too, and clearly we won that particular arm’s race, if you know your history. Instead, I would focus more on how the movie lurches from moment-to-moment like a child in a toy store called World War II. It is like the producers sat down and said, “Okay, World War II movie. It has been done before, but what can we do differently?” They then wrote down a bunch of words on a board and invited their children into the room to pen the script, telling them that they had to incorporate the words they wrote down. I am sure you can come up with your own explanation for the fever dream that is this movie. It invites ludicrous explanation of its making because the premise is so over-the-top.
My viewing of Company of Heroes was not very Christian. I laughed at things that were not intended to be laughed at, such as the OSS safe house, or a couple dozen Germans being cut down by one guy at close range with a weapon not designed for such slaughter. And the film had a high enough body count not including that ridiculous scene. The people who made the movie, I guess, worked hard and their, er, efforts should be at least noted. I admit that when I see a movie like this, I see it with a set of eyes and background knowledge that most do not possess. Having said all that, I cannot think of a single redeeming value to be gained from watching it. Avoid.