Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Recon: Warfighting in Cassino, with Franco Nero

During WWII, the Italian campaign had its own special challenges. It was hard to tell friendlies from enemies, because Italy changed sides in 1943, but not every Fascist was on-board. That risk of ambushes was a constant fact of life for reconnaissance patrols. One sneak attack precipitates a tragic cycle of retribution, guilt, and angst in Robert Port’s adaptation of Richard Bausch’s novel Peace, retitled Recon, which has a special Fathom Events screening today, ahead of its theatrical release this Friday.

When a fanatical officer ambushes the unit, their sergeant remorselessly guns down his unarmed lover as well. The incident obviously bothers Corporal Marson, as well as the street-smart Private Asch. In contrast, country-poor Pvt. Joyner is more troubled by the extent Marson is troubled. Shortly thereafter, in what might be an act of reprisal, the Sergeant dispatches them on a dangerous recon mission, up the mountain in search of the hiding German army.

They have either a stroke of good or bad luck when they encounter Angelo, a grizzled old villager, who agrees to lead them to the Germans. However, none of the GIs trusts the Italian, including Marson, but he insists they follow him anyway.

is definitely a revisionist World War II film, which makes its release timed around Veteran’s Day a little awkward. Nevertheless, it is an earnest film of decent quality that should never seriously disparage anyone’s opinion of WWII-era veterans. Both intellectually and emotionally, we should all accept the fact war forces people to do terrible things. The fact that the “Greatest Generation” survived the sort of circumstances depicted in Recon to become productive citizens is one of the reasons they were so great.

Arguably, the Chris Brochu and Sam Keeley, as Asch and Joyner, make that point quite dramatically with their memorable performances. The ill-will between the two enlisted men runs so strong, they are often on the brink of fisticuffs, yet when tragedy strikes, their antagonism is jettisoned. Consequently, their late scenes together are indeed quite poignant.

It is a little mind-blowing to see the legendary Franco Nero playing a seventy-something mountain villager, but here he is, credibly craggy as Angelo. In fact, he proves he can pull off an Eastwood kind of deconstructive career twist. Meanwhile, Alexander Ludwig broods as hard as humanly possible as Marson, but at some point, diminishing marginal returns start to set in.

is grim in tone, but it stages some surprisingly tense and realistic warfighting sequences. It is an uncompromising film that overachieves with its resources, but it has nothing like the scale, spectacle, or emotional heft of the stronger recent WWII films, like Hacksaw Ridge, Greyhound, and Unbroken. Recommended for fans of anti-heroic war movies, Recon has a special Fathom Events screening tonight (11/10) and then opens nationwide (except in New York City) this Friday (11/13).