History on Film – Band of Brothers

Okay, I’m a romance novelist.  But I can say without reservation that Band of Brothers is the single greatest mini-series ever produced.  And yep, it’s a gritty drama about paratroopers in World War Two.  But if you write it off as just another violent war movie then you’re missing out on one of the greatest stories ever told.

Band of Brothers is the story of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne division of the U.S. Army in World War Two.  It follows the company from training in Georgia, through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and on to the end of the war.  Not only is it the greatest history lesson of WWII that you’ll ever see, it’s a sharply realistic depiction of what war is like and what it does to men.

I’m talking about the good with the bad when I say that.  Because the strength of Band of Brothers lies in its title.  Through the course of the war, the men of Easy Company become like brothers as they experience the triumphs and terrors of the war together.  That’s why you need to watch it.

It’s too easy for those of us who have never gone to war, never lived on the home-front while our husbands, sons, and brothers go to war, to assume that war is just a bunch of explosive special effects and dirty uniforms.  None of us have experienced the long days of waiting for short, intense bursts of chaos and death.  None of us has bonded with men on whom our lives depend in the most real of ways.  None of us has dealt with the nightmare of killing another man because we’re supposed to, because if we don’t he will kill us.  War is so much more than loud noises.

That’s what Band of Brothers does so well.  In a way you could say that it’s a love story.  The men of Easy Company, all of the men who fought for our country, then and now, form a bond unlike anything that we might be tempted to think of as love.  Sure, it was hard for me to tell all of the numerous actors playing the roles apart at first, but it didn’t matter.  The intensity of each character, of what they represented, was there in the smiles and laughter in moments of joy and the horror and heartbreak as friends watched friends being blown apart or slowly bleeding to death.

Don’t let the violence turn you off though.  Band of Brothers is not as gory as its sister (or brother) production Saving Private Ryan.  Both were produced by the same team and the actors involved in each one actually trained with each other prior to filming (or at least using the same facilities and trainers, I can’t remember which off the top of my head).  The point of Band of Brothers is not to shock, it’s to get under your skin, to make you think.

That’s what happens to me every time I watch it.  It gets under my skin and doesn’t leave me for days and weeks.  It’s one of the few DVD sets that I own where I have to watch all of the special features, and there’s an entire disc of them, each time I watch the series.  Ron Livingston’s Video Diaries, a look into the two week training camp all of the actors had to go through before filming, is especially awesome.  It’s no wonder that so many of the actors stayed friends long after the production wrapped.

But far and away the best, most amazing, and most haunting part of Band of Brothers is that each episode begins with first-hand accounts from the real men that the actors are portraying.  Only they aren’t identified as themselves until the very end of the last episode.  Hearing about the drama you’re about to see reenacted straight from the lips of the men who experienced it is a haunting experience.  Each time I watch I wish I could sit down with the guys and listen to them go on for hours, reliving arguably the most important and influential event of the 20th century.

So no, Band of Brothers is not a romance novel.  It’s not a cute society drama or a hilarious sitcom.  It’s just one of the most important true stories ever committed to film.  You really need to watch it, even if you don’t think you like war movies.  Ultimately it’s not a warm movie, it’s the story of friendships that war and death could not destroy.

Oh!  And I didn’t even get into how amazing Damian Lewis is as Richard Winters!  Definitely one of the finest actors going in one of his best performances!

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2 thoughts on “History on Film – Band of Brothers

  1. I agree. I think it is outstanding for a number of reasons but I love that you identified that the integrating of filmic narrative with the living members of the actual team is so poweful. It makes me weep every episode I watch, over and over again.

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