Tuesday, September 18, 2012

World War II- Party Time!: "Death of a Soldier" (1986)

Reb Brown plays an American GI in WWII Australia. He and over 40,000 other Americans are there ready to ship out to fight the Japanese.

James Coburn is a major who oversees the relations between the Americans and the Australians. Brown, who drinks too much, begins strangling women to death so he can "hear their voices." The local Australian cops are frustrated as the American army brass try to keep a lid on the killings, hampering the civilian investigation. Brown's tent mate, who does the worst Curly impression of all time, eventually turns Brown in. Coburn goes from investigating Brown, to defending him as a lawyer. Thanks to the film's title, we know Brown will be found guilty and hanged. Coburn fights for his insane client's life right up to the very end. James Coburn, the Oscar winner from "Affliction," and my nominee for most crabby Academy Award acceptance speech, is very good in this...for the first forty five minutes. His military police liaison role is showy, and he has an air about him the demands respect.

My biggest problem here is the completely biased and left leaning slant the film has. It brazenly announces that this was based on a true story, yet Coburn's character was "inspired" by a different character altogether. How much of this plot was "inspired" as well? Reb Brown's role is one note. He drinks a lot, charms his way into these women's lives, then kills them. An excuse is thrown up that he is insane because his entire family is a bunch of alcoholics. Here, we get classic victimization. He is not guilty because he is clearly drunk and insane. If we released every murderer who was drunk and "insane," I would never leave the house. The film portrays Brown's evil, then does a 180, trying to get the audience to get the poor man some mental help, forget about the three murdered women, and the two who got away.

The plot point where Coburn goes from investigating officer to Brown's defense attorney smacks of screenwriter's convenience. It is not believable for one second, as is the Australian detectives' about face from hardened cops to trying to help Coburn get "the poor lad" off. Coburn's performance also suffers here, again as his character completely changes for no other reason than the screenwriter thought he should.

After Brown is convicted, but before the hanging, Coburn tries to get the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. He runs into obstacles at every turn, and the film makers will have us believe everybody on the island of Australia was against saving this man's life. Even General Douglas MacArthur was trying to stop Coburn from fighting the good fight. The actor who plays MacArthur has exactly one line, other than that, he hangs around offices and smokes that signature pipe while others talk. He is The X-Files' Cigarette Smoking Man set in World War II.

Revisionist history like this makes me sick. There is a staged gun battle between Americans and Australians that leaves dozens killed, and does nothing more than show what assholes Americans were. Apparently, to our country, World War II was just an excuse to party. Hollywood has been trying since then to get us to "understand" Hitler and Japan just like we are supposed to understand Muslim extremists who want us dead. At one point, Coburn compares the United States to Hitler, since we want to execute Brown. I almost shut the film off right there.

According to this film, we are a bunch of partying hicks. According to another film, "The Affair," all the white servicemen stationed in England were also horny, and flaming racists. That film also had an execution, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. With all this rape, partying, serial murder, and drinking, where did we find time to win the war? With a dumb little romantic subplot worked in about Coburn and a local woman, this film fails on so many levels. Considering today's climate, this would offend anyone who has loved ones overseas.

Even with the world climate of the last sixty years, do we need someone telling us our victory in World War II was a horrible mistake? Forget the Japanese and German atrocities, this film is compelled to remind us that serial killers are people, too, even during wartime. I think I will remember historical fact, not Hollywood fiction.

I completely dismiss this film. (*) out of five stars.