Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sedona ’18: Instrument of War

The National WWII Museum is one of the best museums in the country, but since it is in the old Warehouse District rather than the French Quarter, a lot of visitors to New Orleans miss out on it. The Museum boasts an impressive collection of historically significant artifacts, including the violin secretly hand-crafted by 1st Lt. Clair Cline in Stalag Luft I. What started as a project to combat boredom became something much greater to his fellow prisoners. Cline’s story is dramatized in Adam Thomas Anderegg’s Instrument of War (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Sedona International Film Festival.

Instrument is an original production of BYUtv, but let’s be honest. You most likely missed it when it premiered last year. Lest you jump to conclusions, there is no mention of the Mormon Church anywhere in the film, or any sort of proselytizing whatsoever. This is a story of the Greatest Generation’s service to their country and what prisoners like Cline did to survive.

Cline and his co-pilot were shot down and captured behind enemy line during the final year of the war. The American POWs knew the Allies had the momentum, but there was a very real concern of what the expected German retreat would mean for them. Nevertheless, there was a mind-numbing monotony to their daily existence. To keep his mind occupied and to relive the memory of playing for his fiancée, Cline, the civilian wood-worker, sets out to construct a violin. Soon, many of his fellow prisoners start scrounging parts out of solidarity. However, the increasingly nervous and resentful Germans might not give the prisoners a chance to appreciate Cline’s long-awaited debut.

Granted, Instrument does not have the gritty battle scenes of Fury or Private Ryan, but it treats the POW experience seriously and responsibly. Some of the prisoners will not survive, which is how things worked in the camps. Frankly, the scope of Matt Whitaker’s screenplay could be easily adapted to the stage, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Jack Ashton, best known for Call the Midwife, has a leading man look, but he portrays Cline with sensitivity and compassion. Daniel Betts is also terrific as Lt. Col. Lawrence Packer, the camp’s senior American officer. Frankly, all the American and British prisoners are earnest and believable, but some of the Germans fall back on easy clichés. It is safe to say none of them have the seething presence of Ralph Fiennes, but that is admittedly an unfair comparison.

Regardless, Cline’s story is important—and Anderegg and Ashton bring it to life quite effectively. The music composed by the great Mark Isham also perfectly underscores the drama, while suiting the era. Recommended for general audiences, of all ages and backgrounds, Instrument of War screens this Thursday (3/1), as part of the Sedona International Film Festival.